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African nations officially launched a landmark trade agreement at an African Union summit in Niger Sunday, with the long sought-after agreement hailed as a historic step toward "peace and prosperity" across the continent.The deal, which African leaders hope will create the world's largest free trade area, was given a boost when Nigeria and Benin's presidents signed on to rapturous applause Sunday at the two-day summit in Niger's capital Niamey.With Nigeria and Benin's signatures, 54 of the 55 AU member countries have now signed onto the deal, with Eritrea the only holdout.The deal was formalized at the end of April when the agreement crossed the launch threshold, which required ratification by at least 22 countries.The AU estimates that the deal will lead to a 60 percent boost in intra-African trade by 2022 .
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