Nigeria’s minister of industry, trade and investment on Monday said the West African nation will sign the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement as soon as President Muhammadu Buhari approves an impact-assessment report he commissioned.
Nigeria is one of 29 countries yet to sign the agreement seeking to boost intra-African trade, stimulate investment and innovation.
In an interview with Bloomberg in Abuja, Nigeria’s commercial capital, Minister Okechukwu Enelamah said that president Buhari has a sense of urgency about the agreement because when he asked an impact assessment study, the team was only given three months to finish everything.
“We do need to conclude our processes and make sure that the train doesn’t leave the station and go far before we join,” the minister said.
The African Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the result of years of negotiations, is intended to pave the way for the largest free trade area in the world.
Since March 2018, 49 states have signed the agreement for a pan-African free trade area, but at least 22 states must ratify the treaty in order for it to be implemented.
Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, is still dragging its feet because the government fears the agreement could harm Nigerian entrepreneurs and enable cheap foreign products to flood the Nigerian market unhindered.
If the agreement brings together all AU member states, it could create a market of more than 1.2 billion people. If measured by the number of participating countries, AfCFTA is set to be the world’s largest free trade area since the creation of the World Trade Organization.
The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that AfCFTA has the potential to increase intra-African trade by half, through abolishing import tariffs.