European Union (EU) ambassador to Damascus Marc Pierini called in Damascus on Monday, March 26, for Syria to accelerate the pace of its year-old economic reform program in order to reach a trade association agreement with Europe.
"Economic reform is indispensable and must come first. Financial support will immediately follow," Pierini said, alluding to the benefits for Syria of an economic association agreement with the EU, during a forum on Syrian-European relations.
For Syria, which is in the process of reforming its state-controlled economy, the failure to complete the task —- including privatizing banks and industries — would leave "all aid useless," Pierini said.
The economic reform movement spearheaded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has yet to pass legislation that would create private banks, but is expected to do so soon.
Syria and the EU have held several rounds of negotiations on an association agreement since 1998 with the next round scheduled for April 23 and 24 in Damascus. The Syrian-EU association agreement should establish a free trade zone by 2010 and give the EU preferential access to the relatively closed Syrian market.
Syria trades 55 percent of its exports with the EU, which exports only 0.3 percent of its products to Damascus, Pierini said.
Syrian State Minister for Planning Affairs Issam Zaim has previously called for the EU to donate "financial, technical and institutional support" to assist the privatization of Syria's state-controlled economy.
In February, during EU President Roman Prodi's visit to Damascus, the EU granted Syria a total of €38 million ($35.1 million) to upgrade electricity and telecommunications networks, as well as to finance a business management institute and a program for cultural tourism.
The European Investment Bank on February 5 also granted Syria a €115 million ($102 million) loan to improve electric power distribution, bringing total EIB lending to the Syrian electricity sector to €190 million ($175 million). To date, the EU has granted Syria financial aid totaling €73 million euros ($68 million). — (AFP, Damascus)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)