Dramatically restricting imports will save Syria $6 billion (4.4 billion euros) annually just as the country is being hit by Western economic sanctions, its central bank governor told AFP in an interview.
The Damascus government surprised the world by announcing the temporary suspension on imports of products that are subject to tariffs of more than five percent, excluding only basic supplies that are not manufactured locally.
“The merchandise affected by these measures represent around 25 percent of the total value of our imports, and this allows us to save at least $6 billion, including around $4.5 billion on cars,” Adib Mayaleh said.
“This is a precautionary measure to protect our currency reserves, which are currently more than $17 billion.”
Economists estimate that Syria has sufficient financial reserves to cover 16 months of imports under the new rules.
Since 2006, Syria has enforced a customs and tariffs regime that includes 11 different categories, taxing imports at rates varying from one to 60 percent.
The import suspension affects around a quarter of 10,000 types of items that are imported, including cars, furnishings, domestic appliances, clothes and some food products.
The measures are a response to sanctions imposed by Western countries over the regime's brutal crackdown on protests that erupted in mid-March. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,700 people have been killed since then and tens of thousands are missing or in detention.
“They are a result of the sanctions against Syria, and this proves exactly what I have been saying ˗these measures directly affect the Syrian people, because it deprives them of certain goods,” Mayaleh said.
Asked about how long the suspension would last, Mayaleh replied: “I cannot give a date; that depends on how long pressure is put on Syria by European countries.”
In recent days, the European Union has tightened the screws on President Bashar al-Assad's regime, banning new investments in Syria's oil sector at home and abroad, and prohibiting delivery of bank notes to the central bank.
The latest measures marked a seventh round of EU sanctions on Damascus.
It has also listed 56 Syrians and 18 entities subject to travel bans and asset freezes.
The central bank governor noted that while the partial import ban would “immediately affect trade adversely, it would have a positive impact on industry in the long-term.”
“Several factories have closed because of their inability to compete with foreign products, and they will now re-open to cater to the Syrian market,” he said. “Many workers will find their way back to such plants.”
In any case, Mayaleh noted, even when the import ban is lifted, “there will not be a sudden move to absolute competition.”
“We will protect some of our national industries. We will continue to make, for example, our own cotton, and farm our own fruits and vegetables.”
Syria presently has free-trade agreements with Arab states and with Turkey.