Syria's president, Bashar Assad, pledged yesterday that he would "personally" meet UAE investors to listen to their ideas about opening up business in Syria. During a 90-minute meeting with Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the Speaker of the Federal National Council, the Syrian president underscored the importance of increased UAE investments in his country.
Mr al Ghurair, who concluded a two-day visit to Damascus yesterday, had complained on Sunday that the red tape associated with opening new businesses in Syria was time-consuming. The Syrian finance minister, Mohammed al Hussein, conceded to Mr al Ghurair that the procedures for registering foreign companies in his country were slow. Mr al Ghurair also met the prime minister, Mohammed Naji al Utri; and the foreign minister, Walid al Muallem.
Mr Assad's promise to meet investors face-to-face could make the procedures easier. During the visit, Mr al Ghurair discussed with top Syrian officials the idea of organising an investors' conference in Damascus in the coming months. He said the details of the gathering would be discussed next month during a meeting between Mr al Hussein and Sultan bin Saeed al Mansouri, the Minister of Economy, as part of the UAE-Syrian joint economic committee meetings.
The conference is expected to give investors from the Emirates an opportunity to circumvent long procedures by proposing their ideas directly to the Syrian leaders. Mr al Ghurair voiced to the Syrian president the UAE's interest in starting ventures in the Arab republic, but some property laws were making investment unattractive, including one that prevents foreigners from bequeathing property. "The president said that it was being reconsidered," said Mr al Ghurair. "He said they're looking at the issue seriously."
Mr al Ghurair said easing such barriers would not only attract home buyers but also investors who would like to buy holiday homes as well as start projects. Syrian officials said the laws were originally designed to protect the local buyers against a flood of foreign buyers; the 1.5 million Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in Syria could cause a demographic imbalance if they were allowed to bequeath property.
It is unlikely the law will be annulled, but exceptions may be made for home owners from the Gulf states. Mr al Ghurair also discussed with Mr Assad the need to loosen the procedures associated with bringing Syrian workers to the UAE. He said that Syrian newspapers would not allow foreign investors to post employment advertisements at a time when job agencies are rare in Syria. "The president said that it would serve the interest of Syria and was surprised to hear that UAE employers were facing some difficulties in bringing in Syrian workers," said Mr al Ghurair.
During the meeting with the prime minister, Mr al Ghurair said that there were 100,000 Syrians working and living in the UAE, compared with 140,000 from Lebanon. The need to have an "open skies" policy between the two countries was also discussed. The policy refers to liberalising international aviation markets and minimising government intervention. "The president said that he supported such an idea as it brings the two countries closer," said the FNC Speaker. "With the presence of fast air transportation the trade between the two countries will enhance."