BEIRUT (Reuters) – As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attempts to turn military success into postwar reconstruction, Western sanctions are a major obstacle that could scare off foreign companies.
Syria has suffered immense physical destruction, while millions of workers have fled, been conscripted or killed. A UN agency estimates the war has cost $388 billion.
Extensive reconstruction still looks far off. Assad’s allies Russia and Iran, as well as China, have made some investments in the country, but they cannot afford the cost of rebuilding and want other countries to share the burden.
Western countries say they will not approve reconstruction funding for Syria, or drop sanctions, without a political settlement. Meanwhile, sanctions are making it hard for foreign companies to work there.
Although some have managed to do business in Syria, the wide scope of the sanctions and broad US powers to enforce them mean companies risk inadvertent breaches.
Most Western companies are steering clear. One that hopes for future work in Syria, German pipe manufacturer Ostendorf Kunststoffe, exhibited at an international trade fair in Damascus and is building relationships with potential customers.
However, it has not agreed any contracts yet and its local representative, Nabil Moughrabie, based in Beirut, said the company was waiting for the political climate to clear.
“We have obstacles. There isn’t any direct shipping from Germany to Syria. There are Syrian banks that cannot receive any money from Europe, and European companies that are afraid to receive any more from Syria,” he said.
US sanctions on Syria predate the crisis, but were extended after Assad’s crackdown on protests in 2011 and again as the country slid into war.
The sanctions have frozen the assets of the Syrian state and hundreds of companies and individuals, including government figures, military and security personnel and others accused of involvement in making or using chemical weapons.