Syrian Arab Republic Business Profile
Statistics• GDP: US$26.3 billion (2005).
• Main exports: Petroleum, textiles, phosphates, antiques, fruit and vegetables, and cotton.
• Main imports: Food, metal and metal products, machinery, textiles and petroleum.
• Main trade partners: Germany, Italy, France, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
EconomyThe main components of the Syrian economy are agriculture and oil. In the agricultural sector, cotton is the principal commodity and a key export. Wheat, barley, fruit and vegetables are the other main products, the bulk of which are grown for domestic consumption.
Oil is the main industry and provides two-thirds of Syrian export earnings, although the future of the sector is limited by the relatively small size of the Syrian Arab Republic’s reserves (which are already over half-exhausted). There are also reserves of phosphates (another export earner), iron ore and natural gas.
The rest of the industrial economy is divided roughly between three areas: chemicals, rubber and plastics; textiles and leather goods; and food and drink. The service economy is relatively under-developed but expanding rapidly: tourism especially has seen exceptional growth to the extent that the Syrian Arab Republic now receives over 1 million visitors annually.
A particular problem for the Syrian economy in a very arid region is the availability of water. The Syrians have concluded a long-term agreement with Turkey over use of the northern part of Tigris/Euphrates river system (which also serves Iraq), but this is still a highly sensitive issue.
The government has set a high priority on economic reform. Much of the economy is still state-owned and highly regulated. Some measures have been introduced to promote private enterprise and attract foreign investment; fiscal policy has focused on an overhaul and simplification of the convoluted tax system. The cabinet has been tasked to accelerate the economic reform process, although it is likely to encounter many of the same obstacles as its predecessors in the form of well-entrenched vested interests and monopolies.
The Syrian Arab Republic’s trade patterns have shifted since the demise of the Soviet bloc, with which it traded extensively. It is now more vulnerable to attitudes in Washington: under the Bush administration, the Syrian Arab Republic is classed as a ‘rogue state’ and since November 2003 has been subject to partial economic sanctions. This has a knock-on effect on trade with other countries.
Business EtiquetteFormal suits are necessary for business. Businesspeople generally speak English and French. Appointments are necessary and business cards are widely used. Arabs often discuss business with more than one person at a time. A list of notarised translators is available from the British Embassy. Hotels with conference facilities can be found in Damascus (Cham Palace, Ebla-Cham, Omayyad and The Sheraton), in Aleppo (Shahba-Cham), in Latakia (the Cote d’Azure) and in Hama (Apamee-Cham).
Office hours: Sat-Thurs 0800-1400. All government offices, banks and Muslim firms close on Fridays and remain open on Sundays; Christian firms are generally open on Fridays and closed on Sundays. During the month of Ramadan, government offices start work one hour later than usual.
Commercial InformationDamascus Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 1040, 126 rue Mou’awiah, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Tel: (11) 211 339.
Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce
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