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UPDATE 1-Nigeria's government ratifies Africa free-trade membership

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ABUJA, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Nigeria has ratified its membership of the African free-trade zone due to be launched in January, the government said, after initial reluctance to join the bloc for fear of exposing local industries to dumping by countries outside Africa.

A cabinet meeting on Wednesday endorsed the president’s decision to join the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) following the signing of agreements last year, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said.

Mohammed said countries have until December to ratify the agreement, whose launch was pushed back after the new coronavirus pandemic made its original start date untenable.

The onset of the pandemic halted negotiations and trading between member countries during April and May and this made the July 1 launch date impractical, officials have said.

Nigeria hesitated to ratify the accord amid complaints from local businesses that their markets would be endangered by an influx of goods from China or Europe via African neighbours.

The government later set up a committee to assess the potential cost and impact of Nigeria signing up to the agreement, and has said AfCFTA will be implemented in phases.

Nigeria’s ratification is an important endorsement as the largest economy on the continent.

The continental free-trade zone, once implemented, will bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4 trillion economic partnership and create a single market for goods and services and movement of persons to increase intra-African trade.

It is to be brought into effect in stages, the first being to establish a protocol for trade in goods and services and dispute-settlement rules. The second will cover competition, investment and intellectual property rights.

To date, 30 countries out of the 55 states in the African Union have both signed and ratified the AfCFTA. Only Eritrea has yet to sign, according to Tralac, a South Africa-based trade law organization. (Reporting by Felix Onuah Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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