The goal of the new free trade area is to significantly increase trade within Africa. Currently, African countries conduct only 16% of their trade with each other, compared to 65% among European countries, according to the African Union.
Africa already has several smaller regional trading areas, including the East African Community, the Southern African Development Community, the West African Economic Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Many hurdles remain to creating an effective continent-wide trading area, including a lack of transportation infrastructure and border restrictions.
Another item to be discussed at the African Union summit is security in Niger and the surrounding Sahel region, which has seen a rise in jihadist violence.
The G5-Sahel security group, made up of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, was expected to encourage AU leaders to press the United Nations for more support fighting extremist violence.