By ADAM GONN / THE MEDIA LINEPublished: OCTOBER 14, 2009 10:31Advertisement
Trade between Syria and Saudi Arabia is set to increase following a visit last week to Damascus by Saudi King Abdullah.
With Riyadh competing with Cairo for the leadership of the region's Sunnis, and Syria an ally of Shi'ite Iran, the two countries are often seen as occupying opposite ends of the Middle Eastern political spectrum.
"What is interesting is that in spite of the fact that the political relations are relatively cool, they have strong economic ties," Jihad al-Yaziji, publisher of the Syria Report business newsletter, told The Media Line.
"The interesting difference is with Iran, with whom Syria has very strong political ties but relatively limited business and economic ties," Yaziji said.
"One of the reasons for these strong ties is that you have a large Syrian expatriate community in Saudi Arabia, numbering several hundred thousand. Saudi Arabia is also one of the important investors in Syria. You don't have many large foreign investors in Syria, but investors from Saudi Arabia are among the most important, with hundreds of million of dollars of investment," Yaziji continued.
The number of agreements reached during Abdullah's visit was actually quite limited. One is due to end double taxation, and another aims to set up a joint business forum in the coming months. Trade barriers on olive oil and ceramics were also lifted.
Saudi Arabia is Syria's second largest trade partner. The trade is worth $2 billion a year, with $1.2b. of Syrian goods exported to Saudi Arabia, and $800 million worth being exported from Saudi Arabia to Syria.
In addition, the Saudi investment bank has recently finished its initial public offering and will open a branch in Syria within the coming weeks.
Abdullah's three-day visit is a reciprocal one, after he hosted Syrian President Basher Assad twice in the past six months.
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