Syria in search of foreign funds to battle unemployment
Syria needs the European Union, Japan and others to help fund a billion-dollar plan to create jobs and fight unemployment, planning minister Issam Zaim said Monday. "In addition to the support of the state, we need that of donors like the EU, Japan and specialized UN agencies," Zaim said in an interview published by the official al-Baath daily.
Zaim said there were "encouraging signs from these parties, with whom we are getting ready to conclude agreements" aimed at stimulating job creation. The planning ministry said Thursday that Italy had pledged to provide Syria with $72 million in aid to help finance agriculture, health, environment and educational projects. The aid will be part of a three-year technical and financial cooperation agreement signed by Planning Minister Issam Zaim and Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, who is on an official visit to Syria.
The two countries also signed a double taxation treaty. One-third of the aid will be provided in the form of a grant. Cooperation between the two countries had been on hold because of an outstanding debt due to Italy, but that problem was resolved in May, an Italian diplomat said. Italy is Syria's biggest export market and one of its primary suppliers of imports. Bilateral trade totaled 512 million euros in the first six months of 2000, the Italian embassy said. Dini arrived in Damascus on Wednesday from Beirut.
The prime minister's office has approved an initial package of five million Syrian pounds ($100,000) toward the job creation scheme adopted in October, the ministry said. "We must increase growth to six percent to absorb newcomers on the job market in Syria, estimated at 350,000" every year, Zaim said.
Official figures say unemployment stands at 9.5 percent, or some 432,000 people out of active population of 4.5 million, but economic experts put the figure as high as 20 percent, which would amount to nearly 900,000 people.
Syria has one of the highest population growths in the world, with an average rate of around three percent in the last few years. The ministry said that unemployment hits hardest first-time job seekers between 15 and 24 years old as well as the illiterate.
The Syrian government announced October 2 that it had launched a billion-dollar plan to create 440,000 jobs. The aim is to create 50,000 jobs in the first year, rising to 90,000 in the second, then 110,000 and 120,000 before falling back to 70,000 in the final year.
The five-year plan is geared toward workers between ages 18 and 24 and women and will include "training of employees in all sectors and giving them loans so they can start their own businesses."
An average of 58,000 workers are to be trained each year, mostly in technology and information technology, the service industry, marketing and tourism, at a cost of some six million dollars. The funds for the scheme will come from public borrowing, oil revenue and international loans, a government newspaper said at the time. — (AFP, Damascus)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)