In an attempt to consolidate its rapidly collapsing economic foundations, the Assad regime has taken an additional step by turning to war profiteers and powerful merchants, freeing their hands to intrude in regional economies. This step authorizes importers to set prices of basic and other materials, without being subject to any price ceilings.
The regime’s decision — issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Protection a few days ago as an internal circular — included the liberalization of prices. The decision was not published on official letterhead. The ministry asked its directorates to follow up on the announcement of market prices, according to the trading invoices issued by producers, importers and wholesalers, and to adopt these invoices to determine consumer sales based on the specified profit rates.
The ministry stopped producing the price bulletin it had previously issued every half month. It is also remarkable that the ministry remained silent about the circular and did not publish it on official letterhead, as per established practice.
Regime traders welcome price liberalization
Traders and industrialists welcomed the circular. In an interview with the pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper, Yasser Akrim, a member of the board of directors of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, described the circular as the beginning of an economic breakthrough in terms of pricing.
Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce head Mohammed Abu al-Huda al-Lahham also welcomed the liberalization of prices, calling for a market economy and the amendment of some legislation. Industrialist Atef Tayfour described the circular as a crucial reform for attracting commercial and industrial investment because it opens the door to market competition in an accelerated and unprecedented manner.
Generalization is a change of economic system of government
On the other hand, the circular provoked negative reactions from several economic experts affiliated with the regime. According to the pro-regime website Hashtag Syria, Dr. Amjad Badran, a professor at the Faculty of Agriculture at Tishreen University, saw the decision to liberalize goods as ushering in an official, temporary change of the government’s economic system in Syria. “It is a decision that establishes a legal mechanism on which the trader, producer and importer can all price their goods without fear of prosecution,” he said.
Badran added that the circular revealed the failure of some articles of Decree 8, which aims to protect consumer rights, ensure food safety, and prevent monopoly, and said that those who wrote the text of the decree do not know anything about the market; instead, he alleges, they wrote it from behind their desks. “Here is a ministerial decision that will freeze fundamental law — that is, it will freeze a range of legislative articles.”
Asma al-Assad’s secret office
Economists described to Hashtag Syria the decision to liberalize prices at this time as disastrous. They argued that to achieve positive outcomes, such a decision must be preceded by the implementation of a policy balancing the market between supply and demand, bringing an end to monopolies.
According to economic researcher Younis al-Karim, the body that will determine prices is the secret office that answers to Asma al-Assad. “The Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Protection circular aims to rebuild a new market system based on “billing,” and this system will answer to Asma al-Assad’s office,” Karim said
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.