ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad will seek to expand trade ties with markets in Asia and elsewhere to bypass European economic sanctions, Syria’s finance minister said Wednesday at a meeting of Arab finance chiefs.
Mohammad Jleilati did not name specific countries for stronger economic bonds, but listed Russia, China and others in Asia as traditionally “friendly” to Syria. Assad’s government is under increasing political and economic pressure after months of relentless attacks on protests. The U.N. says more than 2,200 people have died in nearly six months of unrest.
France’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said Tuesday in Paris that tighter economic sanctions could be coming from the European Union, a critical market for Syrian oil and goods. The EU already has imposed several rounds of sanctions, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil.
Jleilati told reporters that economic growth in Syria has slumped to below 2 percent.
The gathering of finance minister and other economic envoys in Abu Dhabi also included talks on accelerating aid to Libya after the collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. The United Arab Emirates has been a leading Arab supporter of Libya’s former rebels, who raised their post-Gadhafi flag at the pan-Arab gathering. Also on hand were international financial groups such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Jasim al-Mannai, chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund, appealed for donor nations and international agencies to follow through with pledges to Libya and other nations in the region.
“We wish these pledges to be delivered as soon as possible,” said al-Mannai without citing a specific country or figures. “There is an urgent need for these countries suffering from the transformations to get the money as soon as possible.”
Another goal of the meeting was to seek long-term strategies to tackle unemployment and economic stagnation, which has fueled the Arab uprisings this year. The wealthy Gulf states are poised to sharply boost investment in Libya after allocating huge amounts at home to create jobs and offer generous handouts to quell possible dissent.
The latest spending boost came from energy-rich Qatar, which announced wide-ranging salary increases Tuesday that include raises of 60 percent for civil servants and 120 percent for military officers.