Remarks made recently by Syrian officials that foreign banks are being actively encouraged to create branches in the country's free zones drew cautious responses from the international banking community.
The head of investments in the Syrian Free Zones Authority, Ibrahim Warda, told Al-Hayat Newspaper that international banks were authorized to
establish branches in the zones on condition that they invest at least $11
million in equity. The free zones are in Damascus, Deraa, Aleppo, Tartous and Latakia.
"It is good to see positive statements about developing the bank sector,"
remarked a European banker working in the region. "But I think we will first
see Lebanese banks going in, followed by Gulf banks. Foreign banks will
appraise the situation in light of the others' experience."
A London-based banker active in several Syrian deals in recent years disclosed that international banks are unlikely to be attracted by the idea of setting up in free zones. "They will want to gain full access to the internal Syrian market," he commented.
The state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria is currently the only commercial bank licensed to operate in the nation. The EU has financed a program to upgrade the Bank's operating systems and to train its staff.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )