EghtesadOnline: Iran can help Syria accelerate its reconstruction and development projects, a senior Iranian trade official said.
“Iranian organizations, firms and provincial commerce chambers are able to meet Syria’s business needs and help the country implement its reconstruction projects,” the deputy head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, Hossein Selahvarzi, said in a meeting with Syrian Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammad Samer al-Khalil in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Selahvarzi is visiting Syria and the 59th Damascus International Fair upon the invitation of Khalil.
The Iranian trade official urged the Syrian minister to facilitate free trade between Iran and Syria, and appoint a representative to follow related affairs, Inside Syria Media Center reported.
According to Financial Tribune, the Syrian minister praised ICCIMA’s role in boosting Iran’s economy and hoped that the experience along with assistance from the country’s private sector would help enhance economic cooperation similar to political ties between the two nations.
The fair is being held after a six-year gap due to the Syrian crisis.
With 31 holding companies from different fields of industries, services and commerce, Iran is the biggest participant in the expo. The event opened on August 17 and will run until August 26.
According to Iran’s economic attaché in Syria, Ali Kazemeyni-Zadeh, over 1,000 square meters have been allocated to Iranian companies to showcase their products, including automobiles, home appliances, food, construction materials and toiletries. Public and private companies from 43 countries are attending the 10-day event, the previous edition of which was held in 2011.
Iran and Syria signed an agreement in Damascus in May to enhance economic cooperation.
According to Syria’s Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Adib Mayyaleh, Syria currently exports close to $1 million worth of goods to Iran annually and imports around $750 million worth of goods in return.
Iranian exports to Syria include chemicals, electronic parts, pharmaceuticals, auto parts, baby formula and faucets. Imports include olive, olive oil, apparel, yarn and fabrics.
Earlier in January, Iran signed major economic contracts with Syria in what Tehran and Damascus hailed as “a new page” in economic ties.
Five memorandums of understanding were signed during a visit by Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis to Tehran, including for Iran to operate a mobile phone service in Syria and phosphate mining.
Tehran and Damascus also signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in a phosphate mine in Syria’s al-Sharqiya.
Syria is among the world’s largest exporters of rock phosphate, a raw material used in the production of phosphatic fertilizers, although the war has marred its ability to mine and market its supply.
The country will give Iran 5,000 hectares of land for farming and 1,000 hectares for setting up oil and gas terminals.
A deal was also signed on providing lands for animal husbandry.
Syria is increasingly indebted to Iran financially: Tehran opened a $3.5 billion credit line in 2013 and extended it by $1 billion in 2015, which economists say has helped keep the Syrian economy afloat.
While in Tehran, the Syrian premier also held a meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to the Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, where the prime minister called for investment in reconstruction projects in Syria, as “the infrastructure has been destroyed by war”.
Tehran has already shown interest in helping Syria rebuild its roads, airports, power stations and ports.
Iranian firms are already involved in a series of electricity projects worth $660 million in Syria.
Iran aims to export electricity to Syria and create the biggest power network in the Muslim world by hooking up Iran’s national grid with those of Iraq and Lebanon.
The Syrian economy is weighed down by divisions and illegal trade networks. But with a return to stability in government-held areas, GDP decline has slowed.
Syria’s GDP contracted last year by just 4% year-on-year, compared with a 36.5% YOY decline in 2013.
The consolidation of territories held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in the western parts of the country—where about two-thirds of the remaining Syrian population reside—has contributed to the stabilization of its economic sectors.