Syrian grain imports pick up despite worsening war

Syrian grain imports pick up despite worsening war

LONDON - Reuters
Syrian grain imports pick up despite worsening war

Syria has secured international supplies of grain this year after a year of struggle thanks to middle-men who have set up deals in return for premium. REUTERS photo

Syria has managed to increase its grain imports in recent months after a period when it was less active on international markets, traders say, a development that suggests President Bashar al-Assad has found a way to feed his people despite war.

Traders say Syria appeared to have had difficulty securing international supplies of grain last year, but the trouble has abated this year as middle men have been able to set up deals.

Foodstuffs are not covered by international sanctions, but banking sanctions and war had created a climate that had made it difficult for some trading houses to do business with Damascus. Now, with foreign brokers setting up deals, Damascus is able to buy wheat while paying a small premium of about 3 percent to 5 percent of the global price.

“Syrian grain imports for the government seem to have settled down into a routine with traders in neighbouring countries taking the direct orders and passing on the business basically under sub-contract to international trading houses for completion of the contract,” one European grain trader said.

In normal times, Syria grows most of its wheat, with imports making up less than a quarter of consumption, although bad harvests, like in 2010, can cause imports to spike.This year’s harvest is due to be collected in coming weeks, and it remains to be seen how badly it has been hit by a war that has displaced millions of people and killed 70,000.

Feeding his people is a crucial test for Assad. The Syrian government has consistently maintained that it has no food supply problems.

Syrian newspaper Al-Watan quoted Prime Minister Wael al-Halki as telling parliament on May 15 that the government expects to buy a healthy 2.5 million tonnes of wheat from Syrian farmers this season.
Bread is still officially sold in Syria for the pre-war subsidised price representing a fraction of its cost, but residents say it is frequently unavailable.