​​Car trading in northern Syria: Excess supply, “chaotic” market

A car repair workshop in the northern countryside of Idlib - March 16, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Iyad Abdul Jawad)

A car repair workshop in the northern countryside of Idlib - March 16, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Iyad Abdul Jawad)


Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The Customs Clearance Department at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey has prevented the import of used European cars completely into northern Syria without a specific time to end the decision.

Only purchased cars that were previously registered with the coordination office are excluded from the ban, as they will be entered normally.

The decision of the crossing administration also excluded a number of goods like the “cutter heads” and spare parts for cars and buses and tires.

Enab Baladi contacted the Customs Clearance Department at the crossing to inquire about the reasons for the decision and the impact on the local car market, but it refused to comment without providing any justifications.

Ahmed al-Saleh, director of the Public Transport Corporation of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) that controls the Idlib region told Enab Baladi that the reasons for making the decision are the crowding of cars in the region’s markets, in contrast to the weak demand for them from local merchants.

He pointed out that the decision is temporary, as the import of cars will resume if the market is able to absorb new quantities.

Al-Saleh confirmed that the car market was negatively affected by the decision in terms of prices and existing types, but if the decision were not taken, the market would have been subject to a major price collapse due to the abundance of supply and lack of demand.

Amidst the ban on the import of cars through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, the border crossings between the northern countryside of Aleppo and Turkey, which are under the control of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), still allow car import.

Activate the market movement

Mustafa al-Omar, a car dealer, believes that the decision was in the interest of merchants in northern Syria, especially Idlib, as the ban on importing additional quantities of cars activated the market further due to the limited availability of cars and the increase in demand for them.

Implementing the decision for only one month is not considered sufficient to make a significant difference in the sales movement of the car market, according to what al-Omar told Enab Baladi, and this is what actually happened, pointing out that despite this, the sales situation is much better than before.

Al-Omar confirmed that the decision affected the prices of cars in the region, especially the tourist ones, and increased their value, on average, by about $400 to $500 over their price before the decision.

An increase in car prices by $500 after only one month of the decision may indicate a greater increase in the coming period unless the decision is reviewed again, which made a number of those wishing to buy cars in the region postpone their decision until their prices drop.

Idlib-based Ibrahim al-Talib, 35, told Enab Baladi that the high prices of cars made him back down from his decision to buy a pickup truck that he needed to work in loading agricultural products from the al-Hal (central vegetable market) to merchants or transporting various goods within the city.

The price of pickup trucks currently in the region is about $5,000, despite their old manufacturing date, as the most recent of them does not exceed, in its best condition, the year 2007.

A car repair workshop in the northern countryside of Idlib - March 16, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Iyad Abdul Jawad)

A car repair workshop in the northern countryside of Idlib – March 16, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Iyad Abdul Jawad)

The market is ‘chaotic’

Regarding the validity of the decision to ban the import of cars in a region that does not manufacture cars, the economic researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Mohamad al-Abdullah, told Enab Baladi that he supports the decision, indicating its great importance locally at the current period.

“The car market in northern Syria has become chaotic, devoid of the controls that regulate the import process, in terms of the adequacy of the quantity required for the region, or the extent of the surplus in demand to direct imports,” says al-Abdullah.

The researcher added that the market needs regulatory capabilities in terms of the procedures taken to register, monitor and follow up cars, which may be greater than the ability of the local authorities to manage this large volume of imported cars in these areas.

Car trading in these areas is also closer to monopoly by some merchants, according to a chain that begins with import from abroad and ends in the region, which allows some of them to control trade in coordination with foreign import networks on the one hand, and car prices on the other.

Political economy researcher Dr. Yahya al-Sayyed Omar says that countries in severe economic crises usually suspend the import of luxury or non-essential goods in order to rationalize the expenditure of foreign currencies, especially when there is a scarcity of foreign exchange revenues, and the existing pieces are directed to import basic commodities, in addition to importing production inputs.

Regarding the decision to suspend the import of cars in northern Syria, al-Sayyed Omar believes in an interview with Enab Baladi that it is a correct decision in principle, but the validity of the decision is linked to several factors.

The matter requires the presence of cars in the market that suffice the real need, meaning that the current supply equals the demand in the market, in addition to the need to spend the sums saved from the import suspension decision in importing other necessary materials, so the validity of the decision remains linked to these variables.

Monopoly role

According to researcher al-Abdullah, there are two reasons for the decision of the Bab al-Hawa crossing. The first is to limit the exclusivity of some merchants in this previously wide-open trade.

The second is that the decision may serve influential parties in these areas in terms of monopolizing the current cars offered for sale, which will lead to an increase in the prices of cars and an attempt to sell some of them in the market.

Aleppo countryside, car dealers can import

The border crossings that connect areas of the countryside of Aleppo, where the Interim Government controls, still allow the import of European cars to the north since they made it possible in 2020, contrary to the decision issued by the Bab al-Hawa crossing located within the areas controlled by the Salvation Government.

Regarding the possibility of stopping imports through these crossings, the Minister of Economy in the Interim Government, Dr. Abdul Hakim al-Masri, told Enab Baladi that the region previously needed to reduce the movement of imports, but the merchants did so without obligating them with a decision, as a result of not selling the cars they had in the first place.

Al-Masri pointed out that despite the permit, the import movement to the north is very weak.

The number of cars imported through the border crossings to the north last February reached only 100 cars. On the other hand, the sales movement is very weak amid the presence of a very large number of cars in the region, which explains the decision to ban imports.

Al-Masri believes that the decision to ban imports, although justified, is better left to the merchants, who in turn estimate their need for imports based on the volume of their car sales, which indicates the region’s need.

The decision to prevent imports is taken in the event that there is a local industry movement that must be protected, while under these circumstances, the import movement can only be directed, not prevented, according to al-Masri.

A car repair workshop in the northern countryside of Idlib - March 16, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Iyad Abdul Jawad)

A car repair workshop in the northern countryside of Idlib – March 16, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Iyad Abdul Jawad)

What market needs

Researcher Mohammad al-Abdullah believes that what the car market in northern Syria mainly needs is an organizational capacity to manage the transportation file in a distinct manner in terms of administrative and organizational procedures, controls, and traffic violations.

In addition to the ability to create the necessary vehicle infrastructure in the region, to avoid frequent collisions and accidents.

Just as it is necessary to work on balancing the supply and demand for cars of various types, personal cars, cargo cars, or multi-purpose vehicles, in accordance with the economic ability of the local consumer to purchase.

Excess supply will negatively affect the market, which is currently the case, in a way that does not serve the local economy within these areas.

In turn, al-Sayyed Omar believes that revitalizing the car market in northern Syria is linked to stimulating the demand for cars, which is linked to several factors.

Foremost among them is the prevailing level of income, which is considered low. Therefore, in light of the current reality, the car market cannot be stimulated, according to the expert’s opinion.

Before 2020, cars used to arrive in northern Syria in two ways through Syrian merchants who brought them from Turkey through the border crossings with it.

The second way is bringing cut-out car bodies that merchants buy from Europe and sending them to the coastal port of Tartus and from there to the north through the crossings linking the opposition-held areas and the regime-held areas.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib, Iyad Abdul Jawad, contributed to this report.


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