GENEVA, (Reuters/AFP) -- Armenia got the go-ahead on Tuesday from the current 144 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to join the body, just six years after it began negotiations.
Approval of the Armenian application came at a meeting of the WTO's ruling General Council, and was promptly hailed by the European Union as clearing the way for the trans-Caucasian state to "reap the benefits of the world trade system".
Addressing the council, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said joining the Geneva-based body was an "historic occasion"
Negotiations on an entry package, which began in 1996, had stalled a year ago amid complaints from WTO countries that Armenia was slow in implementing market reforms they insisted were vital before it could come in. But in recent months its parliament has passed a raft of legislation bringing Armenian trade practices into line with WTO rules allowing access to its markets for foreign goods and service providers.
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi attended a ceremony to mark the signing by Armenian Minister of Trade and Economic Development, Karen Chshmaritian, of a protocol of accession after the decision by the general council.
The protocol lays out the terms and conditions for Armenia's entry, and the package now needs to be ratified by the Armenian parliament. Thirty days after the WTO is officially notified of the ratification, the country will bolster the currently 144-strong membership.
"After the declaration of independence, the foreign economic and trade policy of Armenia has been directed towards integration into the world economy, stimulation of exports, attraction of investments and intensification of the cooperation with international organizations," Markarian said.
Supachai called the move "very significant" for Armenia and the multilateral trading system. "Since achieving independence, Armenia embarked on a comprehensive process of democratization, economic liberalization and market reform in which membership of the WTO is a decisive milestone," the WTO chief said.
"Overall, Armenia has been able to offer its WTO partners commitments that are balanced and in line with its economic capacities," EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said in a statement issued from Brussels.
Armenia's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in 2001 was 9.6 percent, and was expected to reach 12 percent in 2002. Last year, GDP by sector was made up 28 percent of agriculture, 35 percent from services, and 37 percent by industry. Exports amounted to $343 million, and imports to $874 million in 2001.
Other former Soviet Union republics to have joined the WTO are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Moldova and the Kyrgyz Republic. Twenty-five countries are currently negotiating accession.