Iran and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have started a formal process for Tehran’s accession to the major economic bloc.

Iran PressAsia: A document had been signed on Friday in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent between representatives of the eight-member SCO and Iran, allowing the organization to consider Iran’s accession bid.

The signing of the protocol would practically allow the implementation of the decision by SCO heads of state in Tajikistan last year to provide membership to Iran, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The next step in the process will be for Iran to sign a memorandum of commitment at an SCO summit in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand in September 2022. The SCO heads of states will then decide to include Iran in the bloc.

Iran was an observer member of the SCO before applying to join the bloc that includes Russia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Experts say Iran’s accession to the SCO will be a major boost to the bloc’s influence in the region mainly because Iran’s massive transportation network can facilitate regional and international trade.

Iran is also expected to benefit economically from membership in the bloc. The Iranian customs office (IRICA) said on Saturday that Iranian exports to SCO members had increased by 41% year on year in the 11 months to late February to reach nearly $18.3 billion.

IRICA figures showed that Iran had imported $14.4 billion worth of goods from the SCO countries between March 2021 and February 2022, an increase of 31% against the previous similar period.