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REUTERS
March 22, 2018
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44 African nations sign pact for free trade area

World

REUTERS
March 22, 2018

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KIGALI: African leaders agreed on Wednesday to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people, but its two biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, did not sign up, diminishing its impact.

The African Union started talks in 2015 to establish a 55-nation bloc that would be the biggest in the world by member states, in a bid to increase intra-regional trade, which sits at a measly 15 percent of Africa´s total commerce.

Rwandan president Paul Kagame, host of an AU summit called to conclude the initial negotiations, declared the meeting a success after 44 African nations signed up to establish the free trade bloc within 18 months. It was not immediately clear why South Africa and Nigeria stayed on the sidelines. Others staying out of the bloc were Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.

"It would have been great if the two biggest economies on the continent, Nigeria and South Africa, had signed, but the most important is that the rest of the continent is sending a right message to these two biggest economies that we are moving ahead without you," said Michael Kottoh, an analyst at Confidential Strategies in Ghana.

The project needed a minimum of 22 countries signing up to get off the ground and Kagame hailed the effort so far. "What is at stake is the dignity and well-being of Africa´s farmers, workers and entrepreneurs," he said.

AU trade commissioner Albert Muchanga also put a positive spin on the absence of the top two African economies, telling Reuters they would soon join in.

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