Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh and Syrian Economy Minister Mohammad Imadi met here Saturday to study ways to develop economic and commercial relations between the two countries, an official said.
Theirs was the first meeting of a joint commission on economy and trade to be held since the two countries broke diplomatic relations in 1980.
Saleh, who arrived in Damascus on Friday, had already met with other Syrian officials to discuss ways to expand trade between the two countries as part of the UN "oil-for-food" program, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.
Saleh and Syrian Industry Minister Ahmed Hamu looked at "ways to promote industrial cooperation" and emphasized "the need to expand commercial exchanges through the oil-for-food agreement, economically and industrially," SANA said. Saleh also met with Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Usamah Ma Barid and with Rateb Shallah, director of Damascus' chamber of commerce.
Commercial exchanges between the two countries account for about $200 million a year. The two countries started to normalize their relations in 1997 and opened up their border to business people and other officials. In 1998, they signed an agreement to reopen a pipeline, closed in 1982, that connects the Kirkuk oilfields in the north of Iraq with the Banias port on the Mediterranean. Iraq opened an economic interests section in Damascus in March.
Iraq has been under economic sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. In 1996 the United Nations started the "oil-for-food" program, which lets Baghdad sell limited amounts of oil in exchange for food, medical supplies and other necessities.
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )