Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Syrian pounds are pictured inside an exchange currency shop in Azaz, Syria. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”


Dubai expands list of accredited testing centers for tourists

Updated 29 min 36 sec ago

Dubai expands list of accredited testing centers for tourists

  • The UAE earlier announced it would only accept tourists with COVID-19 negative certificates from a limited list of testing centers

DUBAI: Dubai has released an extended list of accredited testing facilities located around the globe to allow more tourists to visit the city, The National has reported.

The UAE earlier announced it would only accept tourists with COVID-19 negative certificates from a limited list of testing centers. The policy remains the same for other emirates.

The announcement comes as Dubai restarts its tourism industry, which was hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic that forced international borders to shut down.

The policy applies to all tourists except those coming from a list of countries where travelers are required to take a second screening at UAE airports.

For the negative certificate to be considered valid, travelers should take the test not more than 96 hours before departure.

Meanwhile, the Indian ambassador to the UAE said both countries were extending a temporary travel corridor agreement until Aug. 31, according to an interview published by national daily Khaleej Times.

Pavan Kapoor said bookings can be made from Aug. 5, with around 700 flights to be operated throughout the month.

Both countries earlier initiated a two-week travel corridor where around 25,000 people were able fly to India.

But Kapoor said resuming normal travel “is not yet possible” because of local bureaucracies and the fact that India has over 1.4 million infections.