Business Environment in Syria

Overview by

Economic Indicators

Thanks to a wave of economic liberalization, undertaken since the beginning of Bashar El Assad’s presidency, the economic situation of the country has massively improved, the GDP more than doubling in five years and showing a growth rate of around 4% in the recent years. The country is moving progressively from a strongly state-controlled economy to a free-market economy where privatization plays an important part. The WTO has begun accession negotiation with Damascus in May 2010 and the country presently has the status of an observer. The country launched a reform of its banking system and a beginning of the process of fiscal consolidation. The Damascus stock exchange was opened in March 2009.

But the draught the country has been exposed to since 2008 has a tendency to darken the picture and disturb the fragile economic equilibrium. Agricultural crisis has lead to a relatively significant rural exodus (20 to 30% of migrations between 2007-2008) and especially to a 27% increase in the price of cereals and bread since January 2008, thus forcing the country to import wheat for the very first time. Since 2003, an immigration wave of Iraqi refugees has also had a large impact on the Syrian economy. Syria is weakened by a very high rate of demographic growth (+3.3% annually), which means the country needs to grow by almost 7% a year in order to reach full employment. Young people are particularly hit by unemployment (75% of the unemployed are between 15 and 24 years of age).

The financial crisis had a relatively low impact on Syria, partially due to its policy of insufficiency, which means that the banking system is not very well integrated into the international banking system and also to the US sanctions. In spite of its liberalization of the key banking and insurance sectors, public companies and central government continue to concentrate more than 50% of the total amount of loans granted by the banking system in 2010. The country has trouble limiting the impact of the crisis on inflation (15% increase in 2008) and as a consequence limiting the impoverishment of a part of its population (1/3 of the population lives below the poverty line).

Main Indicators 20092010201120122013
GDP (billions USD) 53.91e59.33e68.3473.90e79.96e
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 6.03.2e3.05.1e5.5e
GDP per Capita (USD) 2,6782,877e3,2353,4153,606
Inflation Rate (%)
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labor Force) 8.18.4---
Current Account (billions USD) -2.37-2.39-2.33-2.54-
Current Account (in % of GDP) -4.5-4.0e-3.5e-3.5e-

Source: IMF - World Economic Outlook Database

Note: (e) Estimated Data

Main Sectors of Industry

Syria, still in full economic boom, exports mostly raw materials (crude oil, cotton, cereals and phosphates). Agriculture constitutes a pillar of its economy, given its large population and its struggle to reach self-sufficiency. The agricultural sector contributes nearly 22% to GDP and employs one-third of the active population; however, it remains a fragile sector, since it directly depends on climatic conditions and especially on water scarcity, key regional factor. Cropland has increased by more than 50% since 1970, largely because of government incentives and more efficient use of irrigation methods. The principal crops include wheat, potatoes, sugar beet, and barley. Large numbers of poultry, cattle, and sheep are also raised.

Industry has a relatively important place thanks to the textile, chemical and of course oil industry, the latter representing 14% of the Syrian GDP. The hydrocarbon sector is very important for the Syrian economy and contributes up to 65% to the country’s exports. Nevertheless, the country’s oil reserves are diminishing from year to year and although the increase of barrel price enabled a growth of 4.5% between 2006 and 2007, experts expect the Syrian oil wells to dry up by 2020. The manufacturing sector contributes 25% to GDP, with the production of handicrafts such as silk, leather and glass products.

The tertiary sector is well established (mainly tourism) and contributes more than 50% to GDP.

Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 27.0 25.6 47.3
Value Added (in % of GDP) 21.0 33.7 45.3
Value Added (Annual % Change) 6.0 -2.3 4.5

Source: World Bank - Last Available Data.

Monetary Indicators 20022003200420052006
Syrian Pound (SYP) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 USD 11.2311.2311.2311.2311.23

Source: World Bank

For more detailed background on Industries in Syria, click here.

Indicator of Economic Freedom

Mostly unfree
World Rank:
Regional Rank:

Distribution of Economic freedom in the world
Source: 2011 Index of Economic freedom, Heritage Foundation


Country Risk

See the Country Risk Analysis Provided By Ducroire.


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Foreign Trade in Figures

Since the late 1990s, Syria has been very open to international trade. In 2005, is signed a free-trade agreement with Turkey (in operation since 2007) and joined the GAFTA (Great Arab Free Trade Area), a regional free-trade zone, while an association agreement with the European Union was drafter in 2005, then in 2008 and has been ready to be signed since the fall of 2009.

Foreign trade represents about 70% of the country’s GDP. Last numbers published by Syria’s central statistical bureau for foreign trade date from 2008 and give the figure of 14.227 billion EUR of imports against 11.997 billion EUR of exports, i.e. a trade deficit of 2.231 billion EUR.

Exports rose by 12% per year on average between 2004 and 2010, while imports rose by 14% per year. It therefore seems that the global economic crisis did somewhat affect foreign trade, however its bases appear healthy enough to continue the policy of opening up economically.

Syria main exports are its oil resources (42% of exports in 2008), textile (16%), livestock and vegetables (12%), as well as food products (11%). Its main clients are the Arab countries, up to 51% with a particular intensification of trade relations with Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria, followed by the European Union with up to 34%, with Germany and Italy in the lead and France only taking the 6th place. In terms of imports, the most important position belongs to oil products, with up to 35%, and also to metals and fabricated metal products, followed by chemical industry, livestock and consumer goods. The two main suppliers are the European Union (29%) and Asia (25%), respectively.

Foreign Trade Indicators 20062007200820092010
Imports of Goods (million USD) 11,48814,65518,10515,29116,950
Exports of Goods (million USD) 10,91911,54615,41010,85514,000
Imports of Services (million USD) 2,4372,9173,1272,754-
Exports of Services (million USD) 2,6493,5623,7704,579-
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change)
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 40.82.5-2.45.6-
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 36.437.732.035.7-
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 40.138.531.733.9-
Trade Balance (million USD) 886-521773--
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 1,290328---
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 76.476.263.769.6-

Source: WTO - World Trade Organization ; World Bank


Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
Italy 23.7%
France 11.5%
Saudi Arabia 10.6%
Iraq 5.6%
Turkey 5.2%
Other partnersClose extended list 43.4%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
Russia 9.8%
China 8.0%
Italy 6.9%
Ukraine 5.8%
Saudi Arabia 5.7%
Other partnersClose extended list 63.8%

Source: Comtrade


Main Products

Main Exports
(% of Exports)
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 34.5%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 6.5%
Woven fabrics of synthetic filament yarn, incl....Woven fabrics of synthetic filament yarn, incl. monofilament of >= 67 decitex and with a cross sectional dimension of <= 1 mm 4.0%
Olive oil and its fractions obtained from the...Olive oil and its fractions obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions that do not lead to deterioration of the oil, whether or not refined, but not chemically modified 2.3%
Insulated "incl. enamelled or anodised" wire,...Insulated "incl. enamelled or anodised" wire, cable "incl. coaxial cable" and other insulated electric conductors, whether or not fitted with connectors; optical fibre cables, made-up of individually sheathed fibres, whether or not assembled with electric conductors or fitted with connectors 2.3%
Other productsClose extended list 50.4%
Main Imports
(% of Imports)
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 29.5%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 4.4%
Semi-finished products of iron or non-alloy steelSemi-finished products of iron or non-alloy steel 2.9%
Cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose, in...Cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose, in solid form 2.3%
Polymers of ethylene, in primary formsPolymers of ethylene, in primary forms 2.3%
Other productsClose extended list 58.7%

Source: Comtrade


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Political Outline

Executive Power
The President is the head of state and is elected by a popular referendum for a seven-year term. The President is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and holds executive power. He can declare war, issue laws, amend the constitution, and appoint civil and military personnel. The President appoints the Prime Minister (as head of the government) and his cabinet, to serve for an unspecified period of time (as long as he wishes).
Legislative Power
The legislative power is unicameral in Syria. The parliament is called the People's Council (Majlis al-Shaab). It has 250 seats and its members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Syria has been under a state of emergency since 1963, which gives the President special powers.
Main Political Parties
The main political parties are:
- Arab Socialist (Resurrection) Party (Baath);
- Syrian Socialist Party (ASP);
- Arab Socialist Union (ASU);
- Syrian Communist Party (SCP);
- Socialist Democratic Union (DSUP).
Current Political Leaders
President: Bashar al-ASAD (since July 2000, re-elected in May 2007) - Baath Party
Vice President : Farouk al-Shara since February 11, 2006.
Prime Minister: Adil SAFR (since 14 April 2011)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: 2014 (by referendum)
People's Council: 2011

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

World Rank:
6 places down compared to 2008

Source: Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2009, Reporters Without Borders


Indicator of Political Freedom

Not Free
Political Freedom:
Civil Liberties:

Map of freedom 2010
Source: Freedom House


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