Nigeria will join Africa's vast free trade area

Continent's largest economy to boost manufacturing

By Aisha Salaudeen, CNN Business
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Africa's biggest economy has belatedly agreed to join a huge free trade agreement aimed at boosting manufacturing across the continent.

NIAMEY, Niger - Nigeria has signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which aims to increase trade between African countries.

Muhammadu Buhari, the country's president, signed the free trade agreement at the Summit of the African Union in Niger on Sunday.

In a statement posted on the official twitter account of the presidency, Nigeria stressed its full support for free trade across the continent.

"Let me state unequivocally that trade is important for us as a nation and to all nations. Economic progress is what makes the world go around. Our position is very simple, we support free trade as long as it is fair and conducted on an equitable basis," read the statement from President Buhari.

The AfCFTA came into force in May after clearing a key procedural hurdle and being ratified by the parliaments of 24 countries.

It aims to bring all 54 members of the African Union (AU) together in a single market of 1.2 billion people by removing trade barriers such as tariffs across Africa.

The deal is expected to boost regional trade and allow companies to expand and enter new markets. Manufacturing industry currently accounts for only about 10% of the African Union's combined GDP of $3.4 trillion and the trade deal could make the sector more competitive and productive.

South Africa and Cameroon are among 52 countries that have already signed up to AfCFTA. But Nigeria had initially refused to commit, saying it needed to consult with domestic stakeholders before making a decision.

Nigeria was initially worried that by exposing its manufacturers to greater competition, the deal could force some of them out of business and drive up unemployment.

But after reviewing an impact assessment of the trade agreement in June, Buhari agreed to come on board.

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