Damascus’ government pursuits “dollar” at the expense of basic needs
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
The prices of fruits and vegetables are witnessing frequent increases, which affects the livelihood of the population, which depends mainly on them for its daily sustenance. On the other hand, according to official statements, the export movement of vegetables and fruits is flourishing at about 40 refrigerator trucks per day to Iraq and the Gulf countries.
Since mid-August, after the announcement of a 100% salary increase for the public sector, the prices of vegetables and fruits have increased significantly, some of them exceeding the percentage increase.
Potato prices rose by 150% compared to what they were in August, reaching 5,000 Syrian pounds per kilogram, which was sold for 2,000 Syrian pounds in August, according to what was published by the state-run Tishreen newspaper on September 10, attributing this to the lack of production during this period of the year on the one hand, and because of the export of the material on the other hand.
($1=13,850 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.
The regime’s government had agreed to export potatoes in quantities “surplus” to the local market’s needs, estimated at 40,000 tons, until the quantity run out. Since last June, potato export operations began in quantities ranging between 200 and 300 tons per day, according to statements by a member of the export committee in the al-Hal market (central vegetable market) in Damascus, Mohammed al-Akkad, who explained that most of the export goes to the Gulf countries.
The Secretary of the Consumer Protection Association, Abdul-Razzaq Habza, confirmed in a statement to the local newspaper Al-Watan on September 11 that there had been a significant increase in the prices of vegetables and fruits, reaching more than 100% since the increase in salaries.
He pointed out that the supply monitoring falls short of controlling markets despite repeated statements about the extent of seizures and violations that have become a “fait accompli” in all stores.
Al-Akkad attributed the high prices to the scarcity of materials in local markets due to the export of vegetables and fruits, and the pricing mechanism is carried out according to the merchant in the al-Hal market based on market estimates without checking the real cost.
Habza criticized the inability of the state-run Syrian Trade Establishment to intervene positively to reduce prices, stressing that the prices in its selling halls do not differ from the markets but sometimes exceed them.
Need for “hard currency”
The member of the Committee of Vegetable and Fruit Traders and Exporters in Damascus said that Syrian exports of vegetables and fruits to the Gulf countries are at their “best,” expecting them to improve further in the coming days. As for the movement in the local markets, he described it as “very slow” due to the “weak purchasing power of the population,” according to his statements on September 11.
Al-Akkad explained that there was a “large percentage” decrease in crop production of vegetables and fruits this year compared to last year and that the prices of fruits during the current year increased compared to last year by a rate ranging between 50 and 60%, due to the increase in agricultural costs and the prices of fertilizers, seeds, transportation, labor, and fuel.
On the other hand, al-Akkad reported that exports are improving, as more than five thousand tons of vegetables and fruits were exported within a week, such as potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, pears, and others.
The economic researcher fellow at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Manaf Quman, told Enab Baladi that the link between the high prices of vegetables and fruits and their export is “organic,” indicating that the export of any product abroad must be based on the size of its supply in the local market.
Usually, exports occur after the local market is sufficient, and thus, the surplus comes out. However, in Syria, there is a major shortage of many basic materials, according to Quman, who believes that the country is not ready to export, and the focus must be on attaining sufficiency for the local market for prices to decrease.
Regarding the government’s failure to issue decisions prohibiting the ongoing export for weeks, Quman believes that exporting goods supplies the state’s public treasury with foreign currencies, which it aims to, in return, import goods and services from abroad in hard currency.
Out of its lack of concern for the citizen and its indifference to his livelihood, the regime’s government always prefers any method that provides it with hard currency, according to the economic researcher, as preventing exports will cause harm by not obtaining hard currency, and if it allows it, the local markets will be harmed through a shortage of materials and high prices.
The rise in the prices of vegetables and fruits coincided with the season of “makdous” supplies due to the high prices of the materials. Makdous is a traditional Syrian meal consisting of eggplant stuffed with peppers and walnuts. Many families are forced to give up preparing their supplies of the material or replace ingredients with less expensive materials.
Different situation with citrus fruits
In contrast to the current situation, the problem of surplus citrus disposal is repeated every season, according to statements by the Director of the National Quality Program, Rania Abd Rabbo, who pointed out the difficulty of exporting them to international markets, which she considered a “weak point.”
During the last season in November 2022, the government took a set of measures to transfer the crop from farmers to avoid their loss and reluctance to grow citrus.
Among these decisions are setting prices for importing citrus directly from farmers, providing transportation service back and forth to the farmer’s land and the sorting and packing center, providing the field box for free, bearing the fees for sorting, packing, and picking, and getting the “commission.”
Since 2015, talk began about establishing a government juice factory in the coastal Latakia governorate, but it has not seen the light until now, as the former Minister of Industry, Ziad Sabbagh, said in August 2021 that there is no point in establishing a government juice factory, given that the majority of coastal citrus fruits are not suitable for pressing, but only for the table.
The researcher fellow, Quman, talked about five reasons for the inability to spend the citrus season through export, the first of which is that the surplus is “large,” and secondly, the product’s weak competitiveness in terms of quality and price with foreign products.
Quman added that one of the reasons is the difficulty of the crop reaching foreign markets or the desire for the Syrian product, and bilateral trade agreements concluded with neighboring countries or other countries limit the import of some materials from Syria.
Finally, the export stage is at the end of other stages, including storage and refrigeration, which requires electricity and fuel to operate generators, which are not available in Syria, which causes damage to crops in warehouses and the inability to store and export them.
According to a statement by the Prime Minister of the regime’s government, Hussein Arnous, on September 17, the value of Syrian exports since the beginning of this year amounted to 520 million euros until the end of last August, an increase of 47% over the same period last year, and the value of imports also reached 2161 million euros for the same period, a decrease of 22% compared to the same period last year.
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