Syria bans imports to save foreign currency

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syria has banned most imports except raw materials and grains, local businessmen said yesterday, in a move to preserve foreign currency reserves as pressure grows from a popular rebellion and Western sanctions against Syria’s rulers.

The government decreed on Thursday that all imports carrying a tariff over 5 per cent were banned, according to businessmen and traders in Damascus who were contacted by Reuters.

This means imports of most foreign goods, from electrical goods to cars and luxury items.

The ban suggests that Syria is feeling the effect of foreign sanctions intended to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end a six-month military crackdown that has killed 2,700 people, according to United Nations estimates.

Yesterday, the European Union imposed sanctions on Syria’s main mobile phone operator Syriatel and its largest private company, Cham Holding.

The sanctions also targeted a television station, Addounia TV, and three construction and investment firms linked to the Syrian military, according to the EU’s Official Journal.

The moves complement an embargo on imports of Syrian crude oil to the bloc — Syria’s main market — and a ban on EU firms investing in Syria’s oil industry, agreed this week with the aim of reducing Assad’s access to foreign currency.

Washington has gone further, freezing all Syrian assets in the United States and barring US citizens from making new investments in Syria.

Analysts and traders say Syria’s oil exports have almost ground to a halt. In addition, it appears likely to run short of petroleum products for heating, electricity production and transport.

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