By Felix Onuah
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari said on Wednesday the country will soon sign up to a $3 trillion African free trade zone.
Nigeria is one of Africa's two largest economies, the other being South Africa. Buhari's government had refused to join a continental free-trade zone established in March, on the grounds that it wishes to defend its own businesses and industry.
The administration later said it wanted more time to consult business leaders.
"In trying to guarantee employment, goods and services in our country, we have to be careful with agreements that will compete, maybe successfully, against our upcoming industries," Buhari told a news conference during a visit by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"I am a slow reader, maybe because I was an ex-soldier. I didn't read it fast enough before my officials saw that it was all right for signature. I kept it on my table. I will soon sign it."
The continental free-trade zone, which encompasses 1.2 billion people, was initially joined by 44 countries in March. South Africa signed up earlier this month.
Economists point to the continent's low level of intra-regional trade as one of the reasons for Africa's enduring poverty and lack of a strong manufacturing base.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alexandra Hudson)