March 21 (UPI) -- The leaders of 44 African countries signed a historic trade agreement Wednesday to create the largest free trade area since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995.
The countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement during the 10th Extraordinary Session of African Union Heads of State in Kigali, Rwanda. Ten African Union countries, including Nigeria, refused to sign the deal.
The agreement eliminates certain barriers to trade, including tariffs and import quotas, in order to boost commerce and the economy. Each of the signed countries would need to ratify the deal before the bloc is formally created.
"This agreement is about trade in goods and services. These are the kinds of complex products that drive high income economies," AU President Paul Kagame said.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari didn't attend the session and analysts speculated perhaps he didn't signed the agreement because of union worries it would harm the country's economy.
"If Nigeria does not join, it will have an impact definitely. Nigeria is 190 million population country, it's a large economy. So we hope that Nigeria will not pull out of it," analyst Alpha Sy told AfricaNews.com.
"Nigeria had already been part of the process of building it, we think it's just maybe one step back that they are taking to review," Sy added.
AU commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat called the deal a "glorious challenge ... which calls for the courage to believe, the courage to dare ... the courage to achieve."