Products and production methods
In ancient times, olive oil, wine, cedar wood, purple-adorned fabrics, furniture with ivory inlays and glass products were exported to Rome from the Roman province of Syria, and spices and silk of Indian and Chinese origin came from here. The so-called “damask” has been supplied to Europe since the High Middle Ages. Only the olives and the textiles have retained their importance.
- According to homosociety, Syria is considered one of the countries of origin of the olive culture. Exports are still significant; the country is the sixth largest producer of olive oil in the world. Storage and further processing are mostly still done with the help of outdated methods, which affect the quality. In cooperation with the EU, attempts are being made to improve production conditions. The disposal of residues from olive pressing is problematic. Due to the catastrophic humanitarian situation and the unusually cold winters in recent years, vast quantities of olive trees have been cut down and used for heating.
- The fact that Syria was historically one of the cradles of wine growing is almost forgotten, because it no longer plays a significant role in today’s predominantly Muslim country. However, grapes are again mainly grown on the Mediterranean coast and around the large cities of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus in order to be processed into dried fruits and juice.
- Other fruits that are exported from Syria are apples and pomegranates, but Syria also imports apples from the Golan Heights occupied by Israel.
- A new, but industrially processed crop is the tomato, which is mainly exported preserved.
- The dark, smoked Latakia tobacco is famous among pipe smokers. The strict black tobacco that once made the French Gauloises cigarettes notorious also came from Syria or the nearby island of Cyprus.
- Sugar beets were a new product because Syria could not supply itself with sugar. In 2010 the first private refinery went into operation near Homs. Supplied with raw sugar from Brazil, it should cover the Syrian market, but also enable exports primarily to Iraq.
- Three fifths of the sheep and goats, which make up the largest part of livestock breeding, are kept by the country’s nomads, the remainder provide farmers with additional income. Despite doubling, especially in the number of sheep, the country was dependent on meat imports. The sheep also cover a high proportion of milk production. Syria was only self-sufficient in the case of poultry and chicken eggs.
- Syria is also famous for its furniture with engravings and inlays made of mother-of-pearl, ivory, bone or wood. These are still being made, alongside more modern forms. However, cabinet making is no longer economically important. This is where the lack of a national institute for design, such as that established in India, is painfully noticeable.
- The situation is similar with glass, the processing of which has one of its origins in Syria and which is said to have first reached Rome from here.
- In spite of its long tradition, natural stone processing still hardly plays an important role economically.
- In Syria, the production of cotton, and earlier also silk, and the textile industry were traditionally strong. Damask, named after the city of Damascus, has been famous since the High Middle Ages. Brocades and other fabrics are also made in Syria. The textile industry was mostly in state hands, but recently there have also been private companies that supplied the major international brands.
- Damascus steel has not been made for centuries.
- Electrical appliances are produced in Syria itself: refrigerators, televisions, radios, washing machines. In 2010 the production of our own optoelectronic solar cells was started in cooperation with a Ukrainian company. Thermosolar heaters are also manufactured in-house. It is also planned to manufacture wind turbines in-house.
- In 2009 the first cars rolled off the assembly line in Syria. In a Syrian-Iranian joint venture near Damascus, the Samand model is manufactured by “Iran Khodro”, the largest car manufacturer in the region.
- Although Syria exports oil, the nature of the oil (light, low-sulfur oil is rare) and a lack of capacity in refineries mean that it must also import petroleum products. As oil supplies are running low, Syria is increasingly turning to natural gas production.
- Phosphate is exported raw, but also processed into fertilizer itself.
Development and development policy
Despite all the progress that Syria has made in its development over the past few decades, it has remained a “developing” or at least an “emerging country”. A relatively rich city life in the west is contrasted by a country that is largely still underdeveloped despite all the major projects. Literacy campaigns were comparatively successful. Nevertheless, the country has deficits in all key areas: in education and research as well as in health and infrastructure. The Eastern Bloc helped Syria significantly in the implementation of the large projects such as the construction of the Assad Dam, which, however, did not bring the expected progress in irrigation and energy generation.
Today, for further development, under the magic words of “social market economy”, privatization and foreign investments are used. After an old debt issue was resolved, Germany has become an important partner in development cooperation.
Development policy with Syria was suspended indefinitely in May 2011 on the instructions of Federal Minister Dirk Niebel due to the unrest in the country. All German experts left Syria at the end of April 2011.