African nations officially launched a landmark trade agreement at the African Union summit in Niger on Sunday, with the long sought-after agreement hailed as a historic step towards “peace and prosperity” across the continent.
After 17 years of tough negotiations, the AU launched the “operational phase” of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in what AU commission chairman Moussa Faki had described as a “historic” moment.
“An old dream is coming true, the founding fathers must be proud,” said Faki, adding that AfCFTA would create “the greatest trading area in the world”.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou hailed it as “the greatest historical event for the African continent since the creation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963,” referring to the AU’s predecessor.
AU officials announced the launch of the five “operational instruments” of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Nations agreed to shared “rules of origin, the monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers, a unified digital payments system and an African trade observatory dashboard”, the AU commission announced.
The agreement was given a boost when the presidents of Nigeria and Benin signed on to rapturous applause on Sunday morning at the two-day summit in Niger’s capital Niamey.
With Nigeria and Benin on board, 54 of the 55 AU member countries have now signed onto the deal, with holdout Eritrea announcing it will consider joining the pact.
Around 4,500 delegates and guests — including 32 heads of state and more than 100 ministers — attended the AU summit in Niamey, which has been revamped and boasts a brand-new airport, upgraded roads, and new hotels for the occasion.
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