Country Listing

Syria Table of Contents



Syria experienced considerable growth in imports in the 1970s, fueled by the increased flow of foreign aid, the investment and construction boom that followed the October 1973 War, and the oil-price rise stemming from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) policies of the mid-1970s. Machinery and equipment emerged as the most rapidly growing import segment (see table 11, Imports and Exports, Appendix). Increased construction necessitated more imported semiprocessed goods, such as cement, iron and steel rods, and other raw materials. Private consumption also increased, requiring ever greater imports of sugar, cereals, dairy products, foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, and other products.

Public sector trading firms imported most of these commodities. In 1976 public sector enterprises accounted for 72 percent of total imports. In 1984 public sector enterprises retained the lion's share of imports, accounting for about 79 percent of the total, excluding military materiel. In the 1980s, the government implemented a policy to curb public and private sector imports. The policy was part of the general austerity pervading economic planning and a way of maintaining rapidly depleting foreign-currency reserves. Because of the large volume of consumer goods and industrial inputs that entered Syria via the black market in the 1980s, official import statistics must be treated as rough indicators of actual import figures. Informed estimates placed the value of black market trade at about US$1 billion in 1985. Officially recorded imports fell from LS19.8 billion in 1981 to LS17.8 billion in 1983 and to LS16.2 billion in 1984. In February 1983, the government called for a partial suspension of industrial imports to ease balance of payments problems. Officially recorded private sector imports fell from LS2.1 billion in 1983 to LS1.3 billion in 1984, reflecting industry's increased resort to the black market, the impact of government austerity programs, and long waiting periods for import permits and letters of credit. In 1986 the government reformed letter- of-credit regulations to ease bureaucratic delays for private sector imports (see Banking and Monetary Policy , this ch.).

In the 1970s, Syria diversified its sources of imports. Western Europe became Syria's most important supplier, accounting for 49 percent of total imports in 1975 and 56 percent in 1976. By the 1980s, the direction of Syria's imports had changed drastically. Between 1980 and 1984, the European Economic Community's (EEC) share of exports to Syria fell sharply, ranging between only 25 to 32 percent of the total. Since 1982, Syria has experienced a tremendous increase in imports from Iran and Libya, largely in the form of oil shipments. The percentage of Syria's imports from Iran in 1983 was 26.1, but the figure fell to 22.7 percent in 1984 as a result of decreased shipments of Iranian oil. Imports from Libya climbed from LS37.6 million in 1983 to LS1.24 billion in 1984, or 75 percent of Syria's total imports from Arab states that year. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), France, Italy, Japan, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and the Soviet Union were Syria's most important suppliers in 1984. Oil, machinery, transportation equipment, iron and steel, cereals, sugar, and produce were the main imports.

Data as of April 1987