CAIRO - Representatives from 25 African nations signed an initial agreement Wednesday to create a free-trade zone linking three economic blocs that would unite 57 percent of the continent's population.
The deal would combine the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the South African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC).
It requires negotiations and ratification by national parliaments, Egyptian Industry and Trade Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said in comments to state news agency MENA.
The alliance would bring together more than 60 percent of the continent's gross domestic product, valued at $1.2 trillion, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said on the last day of a weeklong conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
"What we are doing today represents an important and decisive point in the history of African economic integration," he said in a televised address before the signing ceremony.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim told the conference that the agreement "could be an important milestone for the economic future for the continent," according to a prepared speech on the World Bank's website.