African nations are looking to officially launch a landmark trade agreement at an African Union summit holding in Niger on Sunday. The agreement has been hailed as a historic step towards achieving “peace and prosperity” across the continent.
The leaders foresee a world biggest free trade area when the deal is duly signed. The almost abandoned deal was revived after Nigeria and Benin’s presidents signed on to rapturous applause on Sunday at the two-day summit in Niger’s capital Niamey.
After 17 years of uneasy negotiations, the Africa Union will be launching the “operational phase” of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) later in the day in what AU commission chairman Moussa Faki described as a “historic” moment.
“An old dream is coming true, the founding fathers must be proud. AfCFTA would create the greatest trading area in the world”. Faki said.
Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said it is “the greatest historical event for the African continent since the creation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963.”
Nigeria and Benin presidents signing brings it to a total of 54 of the 55 AU member countries that have now signed the deal, while Eritrea is the only one remaining.
About 4,500 delegates and dignitaries, including 32 heads of state and more than 100 ministers are in attendance at the AU summit in Niamey.
The deal was buoyed when Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, announced this week it would join the deal with Benin after pulling out from the agreement in 2018.
Nigeria’s chief trade negotiator Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe said President Muhammadu Buhari would sign the landmark agreement deal, “opening Africa up to abundant opportunities”.
Speaking on why Nigeria decided to join, Ambassador Chinedu Osakwe, Nigeria’s chief trade negotiator said, “We weren’t dragged into this, we are a leading advocate. But it is about assessing how to make it work for Nigeria and indeed the continent.”
The summit is expected to produce a start date for the deal which is expected to bring up to 60 percent boost in intra-African trade by 2020.