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Syrian Arab Republic: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Syrian Arab Republic

Formal suits are necessary for business. Businesspeople generally speak English and French. Appointments are necessary and business cards are widely used. Arabs often discuss business with more than one person at a time. A list of notarised translators is available from the British Embassy. Hotels with conference facilities can be found in Damascus (Cham Palace, Ebla-Cham, Omayyad and The Sheraton), in Aleppo (Shahba-Cham), in Latakia (the Cote d'Azure) and in Hama (Apamee-Cham).

Office Hours

Sat-Thurs 0800-1400. All government offices, banks and Muslim firms close on Fridays and remain open on Sundays; Christian firms are generally open on Fridays and closed on Sundays. During the month of Ramadan, government offices start work one hour later than usual.

Economy

The main components of the Syrian economy are agriculture and oil. In the agricultural sector, cotton is the principal commodity and a key export. Wheat, barley, fruit and vegetables are the other main products, the bulk of which are grown for domestic consumption.

Oil is the main industry and provides two-thirds of Syrian export earnings, although the future of the sector is limited by the relatively small size of the Syrian Arab Republic's reserves (which are already over half-exhausted). There are also reserves of phosphates (another export earner), iron ore and natural gas.

The rest of the industrial economy is divided roughly between three areas: chemicals, rubber and plastics; textiles and leather goods; and food and drink. The service economy is relatively under-developed but expanding rapidly: tourism especially has seen exceptional growth to the extent that the Syrian Arab Republic now receives over 1 million visitors annually.

A particular problem for the Syrian economy in a very arid region is the availability of water. The Syrians have concluded a long-term agreement with Turkey over use of the northern part of Tigris/Euphrates river system (which also serves Iraq), but this is still a highly sensitive issue.

The government has set a high priority on economic reform. Much of the economy is still state-owned and highly regulated. Some measures have been introduced to promote private enterprise and attract foreign investment; fiscal policy has focused on an overhaul and simplification of the convoluted tax system. The cabinet has been tasked to accelerate the economic reform process, although it is likely to encounter many of the same obstacles as its predecessors in the form of well-entrenched vested interests and monopolies.

The Syrian Arab Republic's trade patterns have shifted since the demise of the Soviet bloc, with which it traded extensively. It is now more vulnerable to attitudes in Washington: under the Bush administration, the Syrian Arab Republic is classed as a 'rogue state' and since November 2003 has been subject to partial economic sanctions. This has a knock-on effect on trade with other countries.

GDP

US$26.3 billion (2005).

Main exports

Petroleum, textiles, phosphates, antiques, fruit and vegetables, and cotton.

Main imports

Food, metal and metal products, machinery, textiles and petroleum.

Main trading partners

Germany, Italy, France, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Keeping in Touch in Syrian Arab Republic

Telephone

Public telephones are available.

Mobile Phone

International roaming agreements have been established. Coverage is good, covering 95% of the populated areas.

Internet

Access to Internet services is available in universities and public offices.

Media

The government and Baath Party own and control much of the Syrian media. Criticism of the president and his family is not permitted and the domestic and foreign press are censored. Press freedom swelled after Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000, overseeing the licensing of the first private publications in almost 40 years. However, a subsequent press law imposed a range of restrictions. Publications had to obtain licences from the prime minister and could be suspended for violating content bans. Websites deemed to be offensive or anti-Syrian are banned by the government.

Post

Airmail to Western Europe takes up to 10 days. Parcels sent from the Syrian Arab Republic should be packed at the post office. There are post offices in virtually all towns.

Post Office hours

Mon-Fri 0800-1400; larger branches are open longer.