Nigeria says to sign Africa free trade pact

LAGOS (AFP) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will sign the landmark African free trade agreement during the upcoming African Union meeting in Niger, his office said.

“Nigeria will sign the #AfCFTA Agreement at the upcoming Extraordinary Summit of the African Union in Niamey, Niger,” the presidency said in a Tweet on Tuesday.

African leaders are meeting in Niamey this weekend.

Nigeria had been a key backer of the plan to progressively reduce trade barriers on the continent since talks on the African Continental Free Trade Area got underway in 2002.

However it abruptly changed course shortly before the deal was signed last year following pressure from local unions and businesses fearful that they would be uncompetitive if trade barriers are dropped.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. – AFP

Last week, a special government panel formed to study the potential impact of joining AfCFTA, recommended that Buhari sign Nigeria up.

The trade deal “provides immense opportunities for Nigeria’s manufacturing and service companies to expand to Africa,” the panel’s chair, Desmond Guobadia, said in a statement after submitting its report.

AfCFTA formally came into force at the end of May, after the required minimum of 22 countries ratified the ambitious plan to boost intra-African trade, which has long suffered by high tariffs.

It hopes the progressive elimination of tariffs will help boost regional trade by 60 per cent within three years. At present, only 16 per cent of trade by African nations is with continental neighbours.