6 Sept 2017
Syrian Arab Republic: Market Profile
Major Economic Indicators
- Syria is a Middle East country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Damascus is the capital, while Aleppo is the largest city. Syria has a young population, with more than 50% of its citizens aged below 25.
- The Syrian economy has suffered substantial economic degradation since the outbreak of civil war in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring. Its infrastructure has been severely damaged with more than 10 million people internally displaced, a development aggravated by the emergence of Islamic State in 2013. An estimated five million Syrian refugees now reside in many external host countries – more than half are in Turkey, followed by Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Tumbling consumption and tax revenues, along with soaring military costs, have caused a huge fiscal deficit. The World Bank estimated in July 2017 that Syria’s war-inflicted economic loss between 2011 and 2016 totalled US$226 billion.
- In July 2017, the seventh round of the UN-led peace talks on Syria was held in Geneva with little progress. The UN Special Envoy for Syria said in August 2017 that substantive Syrian peace talks involving representatives of the Syrian government and a unified opposition would likely take place in October 2017.
- The pre-war Syrian economy was buoyed by the oil sector, which accounted for 25% of GDP. Agriculture was another pillar (nearly 20% of GDP) despite the droughts of 2007-10. Tourism (about 10% GDP) was once seen as an emerging driver. Market reforms, including the establishment of the Damascus Stock Exchange, subsidy reforms and consolidation of multiple exchange rates, were implemented and contributed to modest economic growth.
- Oil was Syria’s leading export prior to the war, followed by minerals and agricultural products. Its main exports markets were the EU, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Imports were dominated by food and livestock, machinery and metals from Ukraine, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Since 2011 – when sanctions were imposed by the EU, the Arab League, Turkey, the US and Canada – the country has traded heavily with Iraq. Syria has had free trade agreements (FTA) with Turkey and Iran.
- The China Petrochemical Corporation and China National Petroleum Corporation had previously invested in Syria’s hydrocarbon sector. However, in 2013, most Chinese companies suspended their operations in Syria as the civil war intensified. While the civil war is still going on in Syria, many Chinese enterprises attending the Syria Day Expo in Beijing in July 2017 indicated that they were eager to get involved to reconstruction projects in war-torn Syria.
- The Syrian Investment Agency (SIA) is the primary agency in promoting foreign investment. Licensed projects are offered with incentives such as tax deduction and customs duties exceptions in a range of industries including manufacturing, agriculture, transport, health and oil and minerals.
- Syria’s FDI stock stagnated at US$10.7 billion since 2011 based on UNCTAD statistics. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, China’s cumulative FDI in the country declined from US$16.6 million in 2010 to US$11.0 million in 2015.
More information on the Belt and Road countries’ economic and investment environment, tax and other subjects that are important in considering investment and doing business are available in The Belt and Road Initiative: Country Business Guides.