Impoverished Southeast Asian country East Timor on Friday kicked off official accession talks to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Geneva-based body said Friday.
At the first meeting of a working party set up in 2016 to shepherd the small Portuguese-speaking country into its ranks, member countries "expressed their support" and "commended the work done so far" by authorities in capital Dili, the WTO said in a statement.
Joaquim Amaral, East Timor's Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs, said that joining the WTO would "accelerate growth and economic diversification".
"It would also set a stepping-stone for (East Timor's) accession to Asean," the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he added.
Speaking via videoconference, Amaral said his country was "fully committed... to implement structural, legislative and policy reforms" to live up to WTO rules.
A former Portuguese colony, East Timor was occupied by Indonesia for two decades before securing independence in 2002.
Its territory extends over half of Timor island, while the western side belongs to Indonesia.
WTO accession procedures usually last several years given the complexity of modern trade and the need for consensus among members. The next meeting on Timor's case could take place early next year.