Syria economy turns inward upon unrest

Syria economy turns inward upon unrest

Sammy Ketz DAMASCUS / Agence France-Presse
Syria economy turns inward upon unrest

‘We don’t expect all Arab countries to yield or participate in sanctions,’ says al Shaar.

Facing its worst economic crisis, Syria is banking on boosting self-sufficiency to overcome sanctions, Economy Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

“This is not an easy crisis. It’s the worst in our recent history because it is immediately affecting the Syrian citizen - it’s affecting the street, it’s affecting factories, it’s affecting the business community,” Shaar said.

The United States and European Union have imposed strict economic sanctions on Syria, where the United Nations estimates more than 3,500 people have been killed since March as the regime cracks down on a popular revolt.

The Arab League is scheduled to meet Saturday to discuss economic measures against Syria, a move that could sound the death knell for an economy which depends on its Arab neighbors for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports. While the 54-year-old trade and economy minister is bracing for such a scenario, he doubts the potential sanctions will be implemented by all Arab states.

“We don’t expect all Arab countries to yield or participate in sanctions,” Shaar said. “We are almost certain that some Arab countries will not participate.”

In a recent interview with Saudi economic daily Al-Iktisadiya, the Arab League’s assistant secretary-general for economic affairs Mohammed Twaijiri announced a string of measures likely to tighten the noose around Syria’s already reeling economy. The measures include will bank transfers, freezing of assets and suspension of Syria from the Greater Arab Free Trade Area. But Lebanon was the first to announce it would not endorse any sanctions by the Arab League against Syria.

The minister, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from the George Washington University, said the agriculture and food sectors should be revived along with local factories that shut down a result of a free trade agreement with Turkey.

“It is very important to us today to have a labor plan, to get our employees back to work,” Shaar said. “This is our job as a government, regardless of the crisis.”