Syria took the first step toward World Trade Organization (WTO) membership on Tuesday after member states agreed to open negotiations on its long-standing bid, the WTO said on Tuesday.
The WTO's ruling General Council during a meeting in Geneva agreed to set up a working group that would examine the country's accession, the trade body said in a statement.
"This is a historic occasion for the WTO and Syria," Syrian ambassador Faysal Hamoui said in a statement to the Council.
"In taking this decision, the organization has responded, as it always has done, to promote international cooperation for trade and development," he added.
Syria's request was sponsored by Egypt on behalf of the Arab group of countries among the WTO's 153 members.
Egypt pointed out that Syria had been one of the 23 founding members of the WTO's free trade predecessor body in 1947, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).
Twenty-nine other countries are currently engaged in the accession process for the WTO, which also allows them to join meetings at the WTO as an observer.
Syria has been trying to gain entry to the trade body since October 2001, but its request for talks had been blocked several times, notably by Israel, as Middle East geopolitics came into play.
The WTO decisions are taken unanimously by consensus.
Entry talks for WTO members that have joined the organization since it was formed in 1995 have lasted anything from three years to more than a decade.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010