WARSAW, Poland — Estonia’s Parliament has amended legislation to allow Estonian companies to make and handle military weapons and gear. The law paves the way for the development of the country’s defense industry and the export of weapons and equipment by local players.

Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik said in a statement that, to date, the Estonian military has acquired its gear almost exclusively abroad, but now the situation is expected to change, and export opportunities for the country’s defense industry will also increase.

“The absence of a right to handle weapons and ammunition has long been a serious concern for Estonia’s defense industry, one that hinders the development of the defense sector,” Luik said.

The legislation’s summary states it “provides a legal framework for Estonian companies to begin to manufacture, maintain, import and export military weapons, ammunition, munitions and combat vehicles. The existing legislation does not allow this.”

The ministry expects between five and six local companies to apply for the required licenses in the first year.

The move comes as Estonia is planning a defense spending hike, with military expenditure to total €2.4 billion (U.S. $2.8 billion) in the next four years, according to Luik. Last April, the ministry unveiled the country’s updated investment program for the years 2018-2022. Among others, Estonia aims to purchase munitions for about €100 million.

Owing to the amended legislation, Estonian defense companies could also become suppliers to neighboring Lithuania and Latvia.

Lithuania has allocated €873 million to its defense budget this year, up 20.6 percent compared with 2017. Latvia’s military expenditure for 2018 is to reach €576.34 million, up €126.8 million compared with a year earlier.