EghtesadOnline: Iran and Syria signed an agreement in Damascus on Thursday to enhance economic cooperation.
A Syrian economic delegation led by Syrian Minister of Industry Ahmad al-Hamou is scheduled to visit Iran this week to negotiate the supply of goods from Iran to Syria, IRNA reported.
Iranian weekdays start on Saturday.
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 in return, Financial Tribune reported.
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 a license for Iran to become a mobile phone service operator in Syria, and phosphate mining contracts.
Syria 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.
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted Iran’s First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri as saying that Tehran was ready to “implement a new credit line between Syrian Trade Bank and Export Development Bank of Iran” to promote trade.
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.
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 remains in tatters, weighed down by divisions, illegal trade networks and the emergence of new actors. But with a return to some stability in government-held and government-conquered areas, GDP decline has slowed, London-based media outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.
Syria’s GDP contracted last year by just 4% year-on-year, compared with a 36.5% YOY decline in 2013, according to Syrian economist Jihad Yazigi.
The consolidation of territories held by 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 certain economic sectors.
“This is particularly the case in the manufacturing and construction sectors. The number of licensed manufacturing projects in the first nine months of 2016, for example, was already higher than the annual average in the previous four years,” explains Yazigi. This relative stability may even encourage entrepreneurs to start reinvesting, despite the ongoing war.
Yazigi believes that the conquer of Aleppo and the end of major operations there, having killed unknown hundreds and driven out many more, may allow some return of manufacturing production to the city. The relative “normality” may also encourage desperate refugees and expatriates to return.