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Syria: Period of Economic Retrenchment, 1986-90
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Period of Economic Retrenchment, 1986-90

PERIOD OF ECONOMIC RETRENCHMENT, 1986-90


In 1987 Syria's economy had a well developed agricultural and industrial base, unlike some of its Arab neighbors that depended almost exclusively on oil. Although agriculture remained nearly as dependent on rainfall as at independence, the government's renewed commitment to agricultural development, the expansion and extension of irrigation systems throughout the country, and application of new cultivation technologies provided incentives to stimulate agricultural output. Industry, too, had expanded considerably in terms of value, both in the range of products and in their sophistication. During the Assad years, Syria's infrastructure grew rapidly, as the state channeled resources into the building of new electric, water, telecommunications, and other development projects. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, the Syrian economy faced a number of serious difficulties. The collapse of world oil prices, weak markets for Syrian exports, large trade deficits, foreign exchange shortages, declining workers' remittances, unreliable sources and amounts of donor aid from the Gulf states and Iran, rapid depreciation of the Syrian pound, and massive defense expenditures forced Syria into a period of economic retrenchment. A mood of austerity pervaded the economy as the state struggled to adjust to lower rates of economic growth.

Although the government adopted measures designed to forestall an economic crisis by sharply reducing imports, cutting spending, stabilizing local currency and foreign exchange markets, encouraging the private sector by introducing more market-oriented mechanisms into the economy, and limiting black market activity, the Syrian economy faced a long and difficult road to recovery. Observers were agreed that in the 1990s, economic recovery would depend in part upon the state's ability to initiate and implement major economic reform programs, improve public sector management, and overcome bureaucratic inertia and corruption. Continued internal stability and external elements, such as the outbreak of an Arab-Israeli war or a severe world depression would also affect Syria's prospects for economic recovery. However, through the end of the 1980s only the discovery of sizable quantities of high grade oil at Dayr az Zawr -- by generating much needed foreign exchange and reducing expenditures for oil imports in the balance of payments -- offered the possibility of economic relief.

The Syrian government publishes a variety of statistics; the one most frequently available in the United States and adequate for most purposes is the annual Statistical Abstract, published by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The Quarterly Bulletin, published by the Central Bank of Syria, and Syrie et Monde Arabe, published by Office Arabe de Presse et de Documentation in Damascus, contains useful information. International Monetary Fund publications, such as the International Financial Statistics and the Balance of Payments Yearbook, usually include considerable statistics for Syria. The UN and affiliated agencies issue a variety of publications that include statistics for Syria. The World Bank's annual World Development Report also contains useful statistics. The United States government publishes a number of reports containing information about the Syrian economy. Most useful are the Department of Commerce's Foreign Economic Trends series on Syria and the Department of Agriculture's Middle East and North Africa Situation and Outlook Report. Several broad surveys, such as The Middle East and North Africa and the Middle East Annual Review, cover Syria's economic development. Middle East Economic Digest and the Economist Intelligence Unit's Quarterly Economic Review of Syria provide detailed descriptions of key economic events. Much of the information on aspects of Syria's economy is in small, fragmented bits published in a variety of forms. (For complete citations and further information see Bibliography.)

Data as of April 1987




Last Updated: April 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Syria was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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