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Turkish clothing traders in Syria trapped between customs and dollar prices

Al-Nofoteh Market in the al-Bab city - 18 January 2020

Al-Nofoteh Market in the al-Bab city - 18 January 2020

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 Enab Baladi – Mais Shtayan

We live in daily horror due to the mistreatment of customs officers,” said a salesman of smuggled Turkish clothing in one of the Damascus markets to Enab Baladi. The market witnesses a remarkable intensification of campaigns of customs patrols, against Turkish goods sellers, and the successive decrease in the exchange rate of Syrian Pound, in addition to the weak purchasing power of citizens.

The seller, who preferred to remain anonymous, asserted to Enab Baladi: “A short time ago, a customs patrol confiscated a quantity of clothing from me. Previously, it confiscated a quantity of clothing worth $25,000 and fined me about four million Syrian Pounds.”

The seller pointed out that the proportion of the amount of the penalty is measured according to the weight of the goods, and it is also possible to negotiate with the customs patrol the amount of the fine.

He added that when the news of customs campaigns spread, the Turkish clothing sellers hide the goods in special stores. He clarified that this method does not always succeed as it depends on the informants “because the patrols raid the stores directly after being informed of the presence of Turkish goods inside.”

The salesman reported that there are talks in the market about increasing the penalties on the sellers of Turkish goods, including closing the commercial store for three months, and one-year imprisonment, but none of these punishments have been officially imposed yet.

The official Syrian News Agency (SANA) said that at the end of 2019, customs patrols were intensified at all city entrances, and a comprehensive campaign against all forms of trafficking has been conducted to protect the “national industry.”

SANA added, on January 15, that the total number of cases investigated by the General Customs Directorate during the year 2019 amounted to 5697, a large part of which was reconciled, in addition to pursuing the cases that were not reconciled before the competent customs courts.

According to customs data, most of the smuggled goods were clothing, medicines, foodstuffs, cosmetics, spare parts and electrical appliances, while the collected value of customs penalties exceeded 9 billion Syrian Pounds.

Severed trade relations between Syria and Turkey

The Syrian Council of Ministers suspended the partnership agreement established for a free trade zone between Syria and Turkey on December 3, 2011. All provisions, decisions, and instructions issued following this agreement or related thereto were also suspended. Thus, the Turkish imports by origin and source are subject to the provisions of the applicable foreign trade provisions and the collection of customs duties on these imports, according to the effective coherent customs tariff.

 The Council also imposed 30% fees of value on all materials and goods of Turkish origin imported to Syria, to support the reconstruction efforts of developing villages.

 On November 1, 2015, the Board of Directors of the “Damascus Chamber of Commerce” decided to prohibit merchants or the private sector from importing, purchasing or accepting any offer that includes any materials, goods or equipment of Turkish origin.

 These decisions prompted the sellers and traders to import Turkish goods illegally, through the border crossings that are not controlled by the regime’s government, or by other tricks, including removing the manufacturing card that shows that the goods are made in Turkey.

Smugglers complain about the bad situation

 According to the “Lira Today” website, the rise of the Dollar exchange rate against the Syrian Pound to 1,200 caused losses to the traffickers of Turkish clothing. Also, customs campaigns in Syria made several merchants reluctant to purchase Turkish goods for fear of loss and legal accountability, while the smuggling route poses an additional risk.

Wael Tahan, a Turkish clothing trader, told Enab Baladi that he suffered great financial losses due to Dollar price exchange in Syria from day to day, and therefore the difference in the price of the goods between the amount agreed upon with the customer before the goods left and the moment they were received in Syria. This is mainly because the price is specified in Dollars, and goods often arrive 15 days late, which is the standard period for the arrival of the goods.

Wael pointed out that the goods are entered by freight offices, through “Bab al-Hawa” Crossing in Idlib, then to Sarmada and from there to Latakia, to be distributed to the rest of the governorates. He also talked about the difficulties and risks of the road, as a result of temporary closure, either because of the battles in the opposition-controlled areas or due to customs patrols in the regime-controlled regions.

He added that “the military regime’s checkpoints receive bribes to pass the goods, which increases the cost of entry. Customs patrols are sometimes active near these checkpoints, which causes great difficulty in passing the goods and be at risk of confiscation before reaching the customer.”

Wael tackled another way of smuggling goods to Syria, through people who hold tourist residencies in Turkey and have freedom of movement to Lebanon. These people are loaded with the goods, in exchange for a specific amount of money, to reach Beirut Airport then Syria via the Lebanese-Syrian land borders.

Wael explained that this method is more expensive and that large quantities of goods cannot be loaded through it, in addition to the verification of the goods by Beirut International Airport security.

Syrians with middle and high incomes buy Turkish goods despite their high prices, in light of the low quality of the locally manufactured clothes in the markets, since a large number of garment factories and companies were closed due to destruction and theft caused by the war, in addition to the poor quality of clothing imported from China, when compared to Turkish clothing.

The process of supplying clothes to Syria has become a profession for many Syrians living in Turkey, especially those residing in Istanbul, considering the relatively good profits of this profession compared to other jobs.

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