African leaders have officially launched a trade agreement for the entire continent.
The agreement is called the African Continental Free Trade Area. It removes tariffs on most goods in an effort to sharply increase trade within Africa. It is designed to unite 1.3 billion people under one market.
Leaders discussed “operational” parts of the agreement at a recent gathering of the African Union in Niger. The deal had been under discussion since 2002 and a general agreement to form the trade area was reached in March.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari signed the agreement for his country - Africa’s largest economy – on Sunday. Benin also signed on to the agreement during the African Union meeting.
The head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, praised the completion of the deal. "An old dream is coming true, the founding fathers must be proud," he said.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou called it "the greatest historical event for the African continent since the creation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963." That organization was replaced by the African Union in 2002.
African Union Chairman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said "the eyes of the world are turned towards Africa” as the agreement was launched. He added that the success of the deal “will be the real test to achieve economic growth that will turn our people's dream of welfare and quality of life into a reality."
Economic experts have predicted the new free trade area could be worth $3.4 trillion dollars. They have said trade among African nations could rise as much as 60 percent in just three years.
But the experts have also noted that Africa still faces major difficulties that could prevent major financial gains. The difficulties include poor road and rail links, large areas of unrest, corruption and border restrictions.
With the latest signings of Nigeria and Benin, the trade area now includes 54 of Africa’s 55 nations. The only remaining country, Eritrea, announced it will consider joining the agreement.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Press and VOA News. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
tariff – n. a tax on goods coming into or leaving a country
achieve – v. to successfully being something about through effort or skill
welfare – n. a person’s health and happiness