Syrian grain imports pick up despite worsening war

LONDON - Syria has managed to increase its grain imports in recent months after a period when it was less active on international markets, traders say, a development that suggests Syrian President Bashar Assad has found a way to feed his people despite war.
Traders say Syria appeared to have had difficulty securing international supplies of grain last year, but the trouble has abated this year as middle men have been able to set up deals.
Foodstuffs are not covered by international sanctions, but banking sanctions and war had created a climate that had made it difficult for some trading houses to do business with Damascus.
Now, with foreign brokers setting up deals, Damascus is able to buy wheat while paying a small premium of about 3 percent to 5 percent of the global price.
"Syrian grain imports for the government seem to have settled down into a routine with traders in neighboring countries taking the direct orders and passing on the business basically under sub-contract to international trading houses for completion of the contract," one European grain trader said.
In normal times, Syria grows most of its wheat, with imports making up less than a quarter of consumption, although bad harvests, like in 2010, can cause imports to spike.
This year's harvest is due to be collected in coming weeks, and it remains to be seen how badly it has been hit by a war that has displaced millions of people and killed 70,000.
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