After Egypt, Iraq lines up trade accord with Syria
Iraq and Syria are to sign a trade accord by the end of January, similar to the deal, which Baghdad inked last week with Cairo, Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz announced Sunday. "We have agreed with the Syrian leadership on the conclusion of an accord, and I expect it to be signed by the end of the month," he told reporters, adding it would be "similar" to the Egyptian-Iraqi agreement but without giving details.
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan will soon make an official visit to Syria, as the former rivals prepare to sign the trade agreement, Iraqi officials said Sunday. The state-run Iraqi News Agency said Ramadan's visit, the date of which was not specified, was decided upon Sunday by the Iraqi cabinet, at a meeting chaired by President Saddam Hussein.
On Thursday, Iraq signed an accord in Cairo to set up a free trade zone with Egypt, amid a renewal of closer relations between Baghdad and the rest of the Arab world. Egypt and Iraq, which has been under UN sanctions ever since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, will form a single market. Aziz said the accord would "certainly contribute to the lifting of the embargo" and that it should also "serve as an example to other Arab countries ... as a way to achieve their economic unity."
Syria and Iraq, ruled by rival branches of the Baath party, began to focus on trade and normalize relations in 1997, 17 years after they were broken off amid Syrian support for Iran in its war with Iraq. Iraq opened an interests section in Damascus in March.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Said Al-Sahhaf said last month that Syria would open a reciprocal office in Baghdad soon and that the two countries will eventually establish full diplomatic relations.
The Middle East Economic Survey, an industry newsletter, has reported that Syria began to receive Iraqi crude oil on November 20 through a pipeline that had been closed for 18 years. The information has not been confirmed in either Damascus or Baghdad. — (AFP, Baghdad)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)