The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved the first-ever treaty on global arms trade.

The treaty seeks to regulate the €54 billion international trade in conventional arms ranging from light weapons to battle tanks and warships.

There were 154 votes in favour, three against and 23 abstentions.

Iran, Syria and North Korea last week prevented a treaty drafting conference at UN headquarters from reaching the required consensus to adopt the treaty.

That left delegations that support it no choice but to turn to the General Assembly to adopt it.

The treaty will be open for signature on 3 June and will enter into force 90 days after the 50th signatory ratifies it.

Major arms producers China and Russia joined Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and other countries in abstaining.

A number of countries complained that the treaty favours exporting over importing states.

The United States, the world's leading arms exporter, said last week it would vote in favour of the treaty despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

The NRA opposes the treaty and has vowed to fight to prevent its ratification by the US Senate when it reaches Washington. 

It says the treaty would undermine domestic gun-ownership rights, a view Washington rejects.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has welcomed the adoption of the treaty.

He said: "It contains important provisions that, if effectively implemented, will reduce human suffering and save lives.

"This Treaty is an example of how the UN can deliver and make a contribution to international peace and security."

Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari repeated that his government opposes the arms trade treaty because it does not ban the sale of weapons to non-state actors and "terrorists" like the ones active in Syria, where a two-year-old civil war has claimed at least 70,000 lives, according to UN estimates.

March was the bloodiest month yet in the Syrian conflict, with more than 6,000 people killed, a third of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.