NIAMEY, July 7 (Xinhua) -- Nigeria and Benin on Sunday signed the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), leaving Eritrea as the only member of the African Union that has not signed onto the historic accord.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Benin's President Patrice Talon signed the agreement on the sidelines of 12th Extraordinary Summit of the AU Heads of State and Government here in Niamey, capital of Niger.
Nigeria and Benin became the 53rd and 54th signatories of the AfCFTA agreement, which started its "operational phase" on Sunday.
The African free trade accord was launched on March 21 last year in Kigali, capital of Rwanda.
The AfCFTA agreement came into force on May 30, after the deposit of the required minimum of 22 instruments of ratification by AU member states to the African Union (AU) Commission.
Five more instruments of ratification have since been deposited, bringing the total number of countries that have deposited their AfCFTA ratification to the AU Commission to 27. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea submitted their ratification instruments on Sunday.
Once operational, the African free trade accord is projected to boost the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent by the year 2020, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
The AU said the AfCFTA "has laid the foundation" for what could be the world's largest free trade zone by the number of participating countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars.