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[Source: NUSACC's U.S.-Arab Trade Outlook 2013]

In January 2011, the Hon. Robert Ford was sworn in as the first U.S. Ambassador to Syria since diplomatic relations between the two nations were severed in 2005. This reengagement bodes well for improved political and commercial relations, but it may be too early to imagine Syria as the next “greenfield” destination for U.S. investment.

In May 2004, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Syria, banning exports of goods containing more than ten percent U.S.-produced components (excluding food and medicines). U.S. dollar transactions with the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria – the country’s biggest lender – are prohibited, as are landing rights in the United States for Syrian airliners. The Obama Administration has now approved export licenses for aircraft repairs, and in June 2010, the U.S. State Department sent a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria that included leading U.S. technology firms.

In early 2010, the World Trade Organization (WTO) granted Syria observer status, nine years after that nation began its bid for WTO accession. The United States has dropped its opposition to Syrian accession, clearing the way for Syria to win WTO member status by 2015.

Syria’s strategic five-year growth plan calls for approximately $10.4 billion to be invested in new energy, infrastructure, rail and real estate developments. Syria’s energy production strategy intends to boost oil production by tendering contracts for the development of new fields. Syria’s petroleum production reached 375,000 bpd during the first half of 2009, increasing to 386,000 bpd in the first half of 2010. Several international oil companies have submitted bids for contracts to increase production at seven mature fields in central Syria.

Five billion dollars in infrastructure projects will be launched under public-private partnerships, according to Syrian Transport Minister, H.E. Yarob Badr. The Syrian Electricity Generation and Transmission Establishment has hired consultants to attract private investment in establishing independent wind farms.

The Khams Shamat mixed-used real estate project developed by MAF (Futtaim) Properties is set to break ground this year. Arabtec, a UAE construction firm, is building a $120 million five-star hotel in Damascus, and the UAE’s Emaar Properties is moving ahead with its Eighth Gate commercial office space development, according to Construction Week.

Syria’s private sector received a boost when the Government of Syria passed a law permitting – with high minimum capital requirements – the chartering of private investment banks. This surge in real estate and commercial development has the potential to generate a range of opportunities for American businesses.

Syria’s State Planning Commission signed an agreement with the EU for a $168 million aid program that will run from 2011 through 2013. The EU intends to energize bilateral trade momentum by including almost $28 million in the package to support current trade negotiations.

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