Nigeria has refused to sign a free trade agreement that would have seen it enjoying free trade with other African countries.

The $3 trillion continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people, was accepted by 44 countries on Wednesday, but Nigeria and South Africa, the second-biggest economy, did not sign up, diminishing its impact.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Pretoria would sign up once domestic legal requirements had been satisfied.

However, his Nigerian counterpart, President Muhammadu Buhari, said Nigeria would not sign, adding that the economic and security implications of the deal needed further discussion.

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“We will not agree to anything that will undermine local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, or that may lead to Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for finished goods,” Buhari’s official Twitter account said.

The African Union started talks in 2015 to establish a 55-nation bloc that would be the biggest in the world by member states, in a bid to increase intra-regional trade, which sits at a measly 15% of Africa’s total commerce.

Others staying out of the bloc were Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.

The project needed a minimum of 22 countries signing up to get off the ground and Rwanda's President Paul Kagame hailed the effort so far.

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