First Published: 2015-04-24

Entrepreneurs encourage people to ‘buy Syrian’
‘Made in Syria’ fair in Damascus attracts around 60 local companies.
Middle East Online

Half as expensive as imported goods

Syria's entrepreneurs, suffering from crippling losses after four years of civil war, have launched a drive to encourage consumers hit by burgeoning inflation and a shortage of imports to "buy Syrian".

A first instalment of the "Made in Syria" fair in Damascus this month attracted around 60 local companies to showcase products that are both easier to acquire and far cheaper than whatever imports are available.

Fuad Adam is sales director at kitchenware company Heart, whose factory in Douma, near the capital, was destroyed by months of fighting.

But he is at the fair anyway, offering whatever wares could be saved before the plant was reduced to rubble.

"We're participating in this exhibition to keep our brand alive in the minds of consumers," he explains, as shoppers make their way through what looks like a makeshift hypermarket set up in a sports complex in the Mazzeh residential district.

Organised by the Damascus Chamber of Industry, the fair aims to "promote our industry and encourage people to buy Syrian products, which are half as expensive as imported goods," says chamber official Mohammed Omar.

This first event was such a success that organisers are planning monthly fairs, not only in the capital, but also in other areas under government control, including one in the western province of Tartus in May.

They could be a major boon for Syrian consumers, whose purchasing power has been devastated as the economy has crumbled amid the fighting.

Millions of Syrians have been driven into exile by a war that has killed more than 220,000 people, and the United Nations estimates that four out of five of those who remain are living below the poverty line.

Dania, 30, says she came to the fair just "to walk around."

But she ends up with such a load of cleaning products, milk, cheese and even thyme, all of which were discounted to encourage spending, that her husband has to carry the bag for her.

"It's worth it," she says. "It's half the price of the store."

- Crumbling economy -

For Dania, like many other Syrians, buying imported products has become nearly impossible.

Syria's currency has plunged since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, dropping from 50 pounds to the dollar to 300 pounds this year.

To limit the damage caused by a foreign currency shortage, authorities are curbing imports while trying to promote exports, according to Fares Shehabi, president of the Syrian Federation of Chambers of Industry.

"Whatever we can produce here will no longer be imported. We will be able to provide the market with many products," he says.

But boosting exports will be difficult for a country where many companies and businessmen have been under international sanctions since 2012.

Syria's exports have plunged from $11.3 billion (10.5 billion euros) in 2010 to only $1.8 billion last year, according to pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.

Sanctions and loss of government control over many border areas have made it difficult to bring in goods, cutting the export-import ratio from 82.7 percent in 2010 to 29.7 percent in 2014.

The family-owned Halwani company is one of Syria's most important producers of halwa -- a sweet made of sesame, almonds, and honey. It has seen sales plummet by 60 percent over the past four years.

"There were so many customers for us throughout Syria, and now we have lost that market," says owner Louay Halwani.

Communication lines between provinces have been cut, and suburbs around the capital are either besieged by the regime or have been destroyed by battles, he adds.

To offset its drop in sales, the company wants to use the new fair "to approach consumers directly, without going through intermediaries," Halwani says, determined to save the company founded by his great-grandfather 185 years ago.

Ahmad has a factory that produces pret-a-porter clothing and lingerie, and says sales have dropped 50 percent since the war's outbreak, explaining that consumers are no longer buying "non-essential items."

Speaking to a young customer who picked out a counterfeit "Chanel" T-shirt adorned with sequins, Ahmad emphasises the bargains to be had.

"We have new skirts in different colours for only 2,000 pounds ($7)," he says. "It's really nothing!"

 

Sudan clamps down on journalists covering bread protests

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

US to overtake Saudi as world’s second crude oil producer

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs

Turkey's EU minister rejects any option other than full membership

Tribal feuds spread fear in Iraq's Basra

Turkey says not reassured by US comments on border force

UN chief wants to revive Syria gas attack probe

US has no intention to build border force in Syria

Lebanese intelligence service may be spying using smartphones worldwide

Egypt's Sisi sacks intelligence chief

Trump dashes Netanyahu’s hope to move US embassy to Jerusalem

Cyprus denies bail for Israeli organ trafficker

Rising Yemen currency sparks hopes of relief

Turkish ministries to investigate underage pregnancy cover-up

Iraq PM launches online appeal for election allies

Iran central bank sees claim for billions from German stock market blocked

Iraq signs deal with BP to develop Kirkuk oil fields

Israeli occupation forces raid Jenin, kill Palestinian

HRW chief says 'Nobody should be forcibly returned to Libya'

IS poses threat to Iraq one month after 'liberation'

Seven years since ousting dictator, Tunisians still protest

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'

Israeli judge detains teen until trial for viral ‘slap video’

Arab league slams US freeze of Palestinian funding

Dubai billionaire to sell 15 percent Damac stake

Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan

Saudi to give Yemen government $2bn bailout

US withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians

Saudi Arabia intercepts new Yemen rebel missile attack