At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive trade

Jordanian police check vehicles at the main border crossing between Jordan and Syria on the day of its reopening on Oct. 15 after a three-year closure. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive trade

  • The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July
  • By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region

BEIRUT: By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from rebels as part of a military offensive that reclaimed swathes of the south of the country.
Syria’s international trade has plummeted during the seven-year civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.
The reopening of Nassib after a three-year hiatus, on Oct. 15, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
It is “a step toward reintegrating with Syria’s surroundings economically and recapturing the country’s traditional role as a conduit for regional trade,” he said.
The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbor to Iraq to the east, and the Gulf to the south.
“For the Syrian government, reopening Nassib is a step toward normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus,” Heller said.
International pressure and numerous rounds of peace talks have failed to stem the fighting in Syria, and seven years in the regime has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.
Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels.

 

Syria faces a mammoth task to revive its battered economy.
The country’s exports plummeted by more than 90 percent in the first four years of the conflict alone, from $7.9 billion to $631 million, according to a World Bank report last year.
The Syria Report, an economic weekly, said Nassib’s reopening would reconnect Syria with an “important market” in the Gulf.
But, it warned, “it is unlikely Syrian exports will recover anywhere close to the 2011 levels in the short and medium terms because the country’s production capacity has been largely destroyed.”
For now, at least, Nassib’s reopening is good news for Syrian tradesmen forced into costlier, lengthier maritime shipping since 2015.
Among them, Syrian businessman Farouk Joud was looking forward to being able to finally import goods from Jordan and the UAE via land.
Before 2015, “it would take a maximum of three days for us to receive goods, but via the sea it takes a whole month,” he told AFP.
Importing goods until recently has involved a circuitous maritime route from the Jordanian port of Aqaba via the Suez Canal, and up to a regime-held port in the northwest of the country.
“It costs twice as much as land transport via Nassib,” Joud said.
Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was equally enthusiastic about fresh opportunities for Syrian exports.
“Exporting (fruit and) vegetables will have a positive economic impact, especially for much-demanded citrus fruit to Iraq,” he told AFP.
Before Syria’s war broke out in 2011, neighboring Iraq was the first destination of Syria’s non-oil exports.
The parliamentarian also hoped the revived trade route on Syria’s southern border would swell state coffers with much-needed dollars.
Before the conflict, the Nassib crossing raked in $2 million in customs fees, Sharaf said.
Last month, Syria’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis said fees at Nassib for a four-ton truck had been increased from $10 to $62.
Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted due to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, the World Bank said.
And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.
Lebanese businessmen are also delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing.
Lebanon’s farmers “used to export more than 70 percent of their produce to Arab countries via this strategic crossing,” said Bechara Al-Asmar, head of Lebanon’s labor union.
Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the 19 crossings along Syria’s lengthy borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Damascus and Baghdad have said the Albukamal crossing with Iraq in eastern Syria will open soon, but did not give a specific date.
Beyond trade, there is even hope that the Nassib crossing reopening might bring some tourists back to Syria.
A Jordanian travel agency recently posted on Facebook that it was organizing daily trips to the Syrian capital by “safe and air-conditioned” bus from Monday.
“Who among us doesn’t miss the good old days in Syria?” it said.

FASTFACTS

BACKGROUND

Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted owing to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, while the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war in 2011.


China bemoans US ‘bullying’ of Huawei

Updated 23 May 2019
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China bemoans US ‘bullying’ of Huawei

  • The trade spat between US and China escalated after President Donald Trump issued orders last week on grounds of national security
  • Trump’s move effectively bans US companies from supplying Huawei and affiliates with critical components

BEIJING: China’s foreign minister has slammed US moves against telecom giant Huawei as “economic bullying,” and warned that Beijing was ready to “fight to the very end” in its trade war with Washington.
The trade spat between the world’s top two economies escalated after President Donald Trump issued orders on grounds of national security last week that have prompted several foreign firms to distance themselves from Huawei.
“The US use of state power to arbitrarily exert pressure on a private Chinese company like Huawei is typical economic bullying,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday at a meeting in Kyrgyzstan of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security group led by Beijing and Moscow.
Trump’s move effectively bans US companies from supplying Huawei and affiliates with critical components over activities the US says are contrary its national security or foreign policy interests.
Japan’s Panasonic announced on Thursday that it was cutting back business with Huawei in light of the US ban. A day earlier, mobile carriers in Japan and Britain said they would postpone the release of Huawei smartphones.
“Some people in the United States do not want China to enjoy the legitimate right to develop, and seek to impede its development process,” Wang said, according to a foreign ministry statement issued late Wednesday.
“This extremely presumptuous and egocentric American approach is not able to gain the approval and support of the international community.”
The two countries have yet to set a date to recommence trade negotiations after they resumed their tariffs battle earlier this month, with Trump raising punitive duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods and Beijing hiking those on $60 billion in American products.
Trump has accused China of reneging on its commitments in the trade negotiations. Beijing has countered that any deal needs to be balanced.
“It is impossible for us to sign or recognize an agreement that is unequal,” Wang said.
“If the United States is willing to negotiate on an equal footing, then on the Chinese side, the door is wide open. But if the United States opts for a policy of maximum pressure, then China will take them on and fight to the end,” he said.