‘Re-Think Syria’

On the occasion of the "Re-Think Syria" event that took  place in Rome on November 28, 2019, Syriatimes had the pleasure of interviewing Loma Saker, President of SINA - Syrian Italian Networking Association -, the event that wants to lay the groundwork for the  "Return" of Italian companies to the Syrian market, the reconstruction of which will be the true geopolitical and economic game of the Eastern Mediterranean in the next 5 years.

ST: Your conference is called ‘Re-Think Syria’, how do you intend to 'think about Syria in a different way?

LS:  Before the war, let's say until 2010, the country was going through a very positive period, of reforms and openings to international investments.  Unfortunately in recent years the country has moved away from radars not only of investors but of international trade, and even now though  the government has regained control of almost all of the territory.  At SINA, through these public initiatives, we intend to make Syria a new destination for Italian companies, explaining that the country needs Italian  technologies and products more than ever.

 ST: Has reconstruction begun yet? What are the most interesting sectors?

LS: The damage to the country's infrastructure is enormous, even though in Damascus, for example, everything works smoothly and even in the most intense moments of the crisis the population has never stopped consuming, trading and living life almost normally.  Reconstruction in the most affected cities needs huge amounts of capital, but European sanctions have had the effect of shifting the opportunities connected to it to other parts of the world.  SINA, waiting for the possibility of being able to operate again in Syria for Italian companies, now wants to inform and create useful contacts between the entrepreneurs of the two countries.  Among other things, there are some sectors that are already unrelated to the embargo and it is in these that we can report business opportunities.

ST: What challenges are there for not being able to have the support of Italian institutions?

LS: Not being able to use the services of the Italian Embassy in Damascus is a cause of concern and a challenge , but we trust that diplomatic channels will soon be reopened.  In the meantime, for visas we try to use the Italian Embassy in Beirut however we are very aware of the difficulties that exists  for our Syrian contacts to go there for the applications and processes are certainly not easy.  But we trust that it may be a temporary situation.  At the political level, some deputies are trying to make the government aware of the need to speed up the process.  On the other hand, the Syrian people in our opinion cannot be a victim twice: before the war and then the sanctions.

ST: What are the main features of the Syrian market?

 LS: Unlike other markets in the area where the Oil & Gas sector is predominant, an important manufacturing industry has always existed in Syria, which needs to be relaunched after these difficult years.  We are talking about the food industry, food processing, crafts, construction, pharmaceuticals.  Syria today needs to restore entire industrial areas and Italy can be a fundamental partner.

 ST: What is the regulatory framework for foreign investors?

LS: Until 2010, projects were launched to facilitate international investments, including those in tourism and real estate.  Subsequently, the internal and international crisis has effectively blocked the vast process of reforms underway.  Today this process can finally be resumed with the complexities obviously due to the situation linked to the embargo, including the financial embargo on the country.

ST: Can you give us some information on the business etiquette that is well taken into consideration if you are operating in Damascus?

LS: The Syrians have always had great consideration and esteem towards the Italians, appreciating their common Mediterranean historical roots.  I remember that Syria is a country where different religions are freely practiced, so in addition to freedom of worship there is an open mind, especially in Damascus, towards foreigners and Westerners.  People love to do business at the table or in front of a ubiquitous coffee, and human relationships and trust come first.  In short, the label for business is very similar to the Italian one, with its strengths and its flaws.

ST: What was the outcome of the conference in your opinion?

LS: The conference that took place on 28th of November was indeed a very successful first step to rethink about Syria and its growing opportunities.

We had extremely interesting and interactive participants from the business community of both countries but also the fantastic participation of the political establishment in the presence of Senator Paolo Romani, who had just recently visited Damascus and gave the audience an accurate account of his trip giving more details and confidence to our guests that Syria is indeed a place Italians need to start building relationships with.

SINA’s work begins now. We are in close collaboration with the team at BUILDEX in Damascus to start offering opportunities to Italian companies to participate in the June 2020 exhibitions and  organising B2B discovery missions to meet and better understand the growing opportunities in Syria.

Editor in Chief

Reem Haddad