PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo is signing a stabilization and association agreement with the European Union, a historic milestone that will help the economic growth of one of Europe's poorest countries.
Tuesday's signature in Strasbourg opens the way to eventual full membership into the EU, Kosovo's main trading partner.
European Integration Minister Bekim Collaku said the agreement marks a "new milestone because it establishes contractual relations between the Republic of Kosovo and the EU."
"We want to become members of the European family in terms of economic integration but also to share the EU values," Collaku told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.
Speaking at a forum also on Monday, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said the agreement was the "start of a long road ... supported and embraced by our citizens and our friends."
The EU has been Kosovo's main supporter with about 1.3 billion euros (some $1.4 billion) in development aid for 2007-2020, according to Thomas Gnocchi of the EU office in Kosovo.
He said the requirements of the agreement should make Kosovo a more legally certain place to do business and encourage foreign investors.
In 2014, EU countries were the main trading partner for Kosovo with 30.2 percent of its exports and 42.6 percent of imports, in total 1.2 billion euros (about $1.3 billion). Exports, however, represented less than 10 percent of that figure.
The agreement will increase competition, with local companies able to export to EU countries without customs tariffs, said the minister.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries. Five EU member countries that do not recognize it have, nevertheless, approved the agreement.
Collaku thanked all EU countries, including those not recognizing Kosovo, "that have understood the only way to strengthen peace, stability and cooperation in the western Balkans is by opening the doors to the remaining western Balkans to join the EU."
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the signing ceremony has not yet taken place.