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Syria seeks to revive 'destroyed' economy via reopened Jordan crossing

The Nassib border post between Jordan and Syria reopened on 15 October [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 October, 2018

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Experts warn it is unlikely Syrian trade will recover anywhere close to pre-war levels because the country's production capacity has been decimated.
The Syrian regime is on the cusp of return to trade with the wider region, soon after the reopening of a key crossing with Jordan this month.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took 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-old civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.

The reopening of Nassib on 15 October, after a three-year hiatus, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group said.

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 added.

The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbour 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, backed by Russian air power and Iranian militias, has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.

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.

Assad's forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadis.

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 United Arab Emirates via land.

Before 2015, "it would take maximum 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.

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 4-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 says.

And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.

Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the total of 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.

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