ABU DHABI: Syria’s finance minister said Wednesday that economic growth in his country is expected to slide to around 1 percent because of unrest, and acknowledged EU sanctions could harm the economy.
“Now, it will be around 1 percent, because of the events … maybe between 1 and 2 percent,” Mohammad Jleilati told reporters on the sidelines of an Arab ministerial meeting held in Abu Dhabi when asked about economic growth.
He said the Syrian economy grew 5.5 percent in 2010, and expected the gross domestic product to grow by around 3 percent next year.
More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since mass anti-regime protests erupted across the country in March, according to U.N. figures.
“The current circumstances, no doubt, have some negative impact on the economy. We hope to overcome it through reforms,” he said.
President Bashar Assad’s government has promised to launch a wide range of reforms to appease pro-democracy protesters.
Jleilati said EU sanctions over the government’s deadly crackdown on dissent would reduce exports to Europe. “Sanctions could impact exports … trade and industry will be affected because most exports go to Europe,” he told AFP.
The EU adopted Friday a ban on crude oil imports, expected to hit hard at Damascus as the EU buys 95 percent of Syria’s oil exports, providing a third of the regime’s hard-currency earnings.
The bloc has not excluded further sanctions. The EU, which had already frozen the assets of and imposed travel bans on 50 people and eight businesses and organizations, has added four Syrian businessmen accused of bankrolling the regime.
It has also had an arms embargo in place since May 9.
The Syrian official, however, downplayed the impact of sanctions on the oil industry in the long run. “Seventy percent of Syria’s oil is refined in Syria. What is left is exported to friendly countries,” he told AFP.
Syria produces 387,000 bpd of oil and exports around 110,000 bpd.
The country is expected to easily find new destinations for its oil exports banned from Europe as energy-hungry nations, such as China and India, could jump on the chance to buy the available crude.
“Oil exceeding Syria’s needs we used to sell it to Europe. If Europe stops wanting it, then we will look for another buyer, depending on who gives the best offer,” the minister later told reporters.
He said the Oil Ministry was already “in contact” with potential buyers.
“Syria is looking for any importer. It could be any country: Russia, China or Malaysia,” he said.