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NIAMEY: African nations launched the "operational phase" of a landmark free trade accord at the African Union (AU) Summit in Nigerien capital, Niamey on Sunday, creating what leaders hope will be the world's largest free trade area.

AU officials announced the launch of  five "operational instruments" of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with African nations agreeing to shared "rules of origin, the monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers, a unified digital payments system and an African trade observatory dashboard".

Eritrea, the only non-signatory to the accord in the 55 member bloc, said it would seriously consider signing the agreement.

The AfCFTA launch was given a boost when Nigeria and Benin's presidents signed on to rapturous applause on Sunday morning.

The AU estimates that the agreement -- which cuts tariffs between African nations -- will lead to a 60-percent boost in intra-African trade by 2022.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2019