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GENEVA (Reuters) - Central Asian Tajikistan on Monday signed an agreement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) setting out the terms under which it is expected to join the global trade watchdog and negotiating body early next year.
The agreement was signed by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and WTO Director General Pascal Lamy immediately after the entry package, completed in October after 11 years of talks, was approved by the trade grouping's General Council.
"Today constitutes a landmark in Tajikistan's history and lays solid foundations for the further promotion of sustainable social and economic growth," Rahmon told WTO diplomats and officials after the signing.
WTO membership, he said, was what his landlocked former Soviet republic - which shares borders with China, Afghanistan and also ex-Soviet Kazakhstan - needs "as it transforms itself into a market economy."
Currently Tajikistan, which has a population of around 7 million, ranks as the world's number 143 exporter and number 157 as an importer. Its main trading partners are China, the European Union, Russia and its Central Asian neighbors.
At the signing, Lamy told Rahmon that joining the WTO "is a road leading to the world economy."
A statement from EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht welcomed the move and promised the 27-nation bloc would work to boost and promote trade and investment with Tajikistan to help it fully integrate with the global trading system.
Before the country can become the WTO's 159th member, its parliament has to ratify the entry package, which commits it to opening its markets for foreign goods and service providers in return for access to the markets of other WTO states.
It then enters the organisation automatically one month after the date that it has formally notified of the ratification, becoming only the second of the former Soviet Central Asian Republics in the WTO.
The first, Kyrgyzstan, entered in 1998. Two of the others, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are negotiating entry while the fifth, Turkmenistan, has yet to apply, while Russia became a member in August this year.
Reported by Robert Evans; editing by Ron Askew