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Nigeria’s Buhari now on board with Africa free trade agreement

media Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari during a signature of commitment to good behaviour in the February 2019 elections, in Abuja, 11 December 2018. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

After originally refusing to join a continental free trade agreement, the Nigerian presidency said on social media late Tuesday that it would sign the pact at the upcoming African Union meeting in Niger this weekend.

Discussions on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) began in 2002. Nigeria, one of the top economies on the continent, originally backed the idea, but pulled out from signing last year after pressure from business leaders who feared that tariff-free borders would decimate their companies.

The announcement comes after a governmental panel tasked with determining whether the deal would be beneficial gave it the green light last week.

AfCFTA "provides immense opportunities for Nigeria's manufacturing and service companies to expand to Africa," Desmond Guobadia, the panel chair, said in a statement.

President Muhammadu Buhari previously gave Nigeria’s large youth population in the continent’s most populated country as the reasoning behind rejecting the deal.

“We are still struggling to provide jobs for them and we want our youths to be kept busy,” said Buhari last year.

“Presently, our industries cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically driven industries in Europe. We have to protect our industries and our youths," he added.

Nigeria was in the minority after 52 of the 55 AU member states agreed to sign the pact – including major economic competitors such as South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

The AfCFTA was created to promote intra-Africa trade became official in May, after 22 countries ratified it.

By eliminating cross-border tariffs, regional trade is hoped to increase by 60 percent over the next three years. Businesses on the continent have regularly complained that shipping goods to Europe is easier and sometimes cheaper than dealing with their regional neighbours, which can be complicated and costly.

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