President Bush signed legislation Thursday that ends Cold War-era trade restrictions on Ukraine, opening the way for the former Soviet republic to join the World Trade Organization.

The measure frees Ukraine from a 1974 law called the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which links trade benefits to the emigration and human rights policies of former or current communist states.

The new law is "going to strengthen our ties with our good friend Ukraine and create new economic opportunities for our two countries," Bush said at a White House ceremony attended members of Congress who sponsored the legislation.

He said the bill will open new markets for American products and help Ukraine develop its economy and raise the living standards of its people.

Bush said the United States supports Ukraine's goal of joining the 148-nation WTO this year and will help it resolve issues standing in the way of its entry. Removal of the U.S. trade restrictions was a necessary step to gain entry.

"Ukraine is committed to economic freedom, democratic progress and open trade," he said.

Since 1993, the United States has granted Ukraine normal trade relations on a temporary annual basis.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, whose pro-Western government was elected in January, has welcomed the U.S. legislation, saying "consistent U.S. steps in support of Ukraine on the way of reform are evidence of strategic partnership between the countries."

U.S. exports to Ukraine, including poultry and agriculture machinery totaled $531.7 million in 2005. Imports from Ukraine, including steel and coke used in making steel, totaled $1.1 million.

Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Ukraine has demonstrated a commitment to greater freedom and free market principles.