DAMASCUS, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian Cabinet has rearranged the priorities in accordance with the roadmap outlined by President Bashar al-Assad in his recent speech that aimed to reach a political solution to the country's 22-month-old crisis, basically to regain the people's confidence in the government's performance and alleviate economic hardship.
In his Sunday speech, Assad has drawn his own political vision that envisions three stages combining parliamentarian elections at the first stage, a broader government, reforms in all domains and finally a national reconciliation.
The Cabinet was quick to rearrange the priorities outlined by Assad, bringing to the surface of the economic reforms. Immediately following the speech and even without waiting for the opposition's reaction on Assad's view, it held an extraordinary meeting over the past two days to discuss the mechanism and steps to implement Assad's political vision, entrusting ministers with certain tasks to ease economic pressures.
Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammed Zafer Mhabek said that the top priority of the ministry is to mitigate the effects of the global sanctions on the national economy, adding that the ministry's main concern is to ensure strategic commodities like sugar, gas and diesel fuel.
He told the Tishrin government newspaper that the ministry is now working on drafting a project to establish industrial areas with Iran, China, Russia and others, indicating that this may positively reflect on the national economy and open new horizons for investments.
Observers believe that the government's measures have come primarily to address the Syrians' mounting economic woes that have pressed hard on the citizens, as well as to send signals about its earnest intentions to proceed with reforms.
The country is in a dire shortage of oil derivations, the first of its kind in decades. Meanwhile, Syrians are now queuing in front of petrol stations to fill their cars with gasoline and similar queues are seen in front of gas distribution centers and bakeries.
What has added to their suffering to obtain these basic items is the unprecedented hike in the prices of most consumer commodities, mainly food stuff.
Wafa Ghazzi, general director of the prices department at the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Protection, has reportedly said that the prices of most materials, especially food, had fluctuated in 2012, noting that the increase in the prices of most food items was done during the fourth quarter of last year.
"The prices upsurge of most food items was caused by the rise in the exchange rate against the Syrian pound and the difficulty of transporting materials and goods between producing provinces and consuming ones and difficulties and constraints imposed on imports," Ghazzi said.
Meanwhile, Shafiq Arbach, professor of statistics at Damascus University, told local media that prices are expected to rise by 145 percent in 2013.
Arbach also pleaded with the government to reconsider a lot of its policies, mainly those pertaining to salaries and taxes, as prices hike has caused significant inflation of about 48 percent in 2012.
The Chamber of Industry in Damascus and its outskirts said that some 78 companies have been hard hit by the protracted crisis in the country with a total loss of 1.610 billion Syrian pounds (some 20 million U.S. dollars).
In a statement issued by al-Thawra newspaper, the chamber said that most losses need long time to be addressed and are represented by the loss of markets and confidence in the Syrian products owing to the inability of most establishments to meet the customers' needs due to the production instability or the total cessation of work.
It said that these climates have prompted Arab and foreign importers to shift their attention to new suppliers from other countries.