Ashgabat, Turkmenistan:

Turkmenistan on Saturday indicated for the first time an intention to join the World Trade Organisation, in a surprising move by a country with an economy still dominated by Soviet-style five year plans.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered Deputy Prime Minister Annamukhammet Gochiyev to “examine the issue of Turkmenistan’s joining the WTO,” the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said.

The Turkmen leader also ordered the government to “start negotiations with the WTO leadership about accepting Turkmenistan as a member,” the paper said, giving little further detail.

News of the energy-rich Central Asian country’s decision to explore the benefits of joining the global trade body came two years after Berdymukhamedov received a surprise offer from European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso to apply for WTO membership.

Turkmenistan, an isolated but resource-rich state on the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, is thought to hold the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas.

But while it has been searching for new energy export markets, especially in the West, it has done little to reform its extremely closed and state-controlled economy, where prices on key products are kept low by budget subsidies.