DAMASCUS, Jan.15 (Xinhua) -- Syria, which once helped Iraq in its oil-for-food program that was endorsed in 1996 to help alleviate Iraqi people's suffering caused by economic sanctions, is now seeking some countries' help to follow Iraq's suit and meet its people's need of food stuff and necessities.
Deputy Minister of Economy Hayyan Suleiman disclosed that his government signed a protocol to swap oil for food, noting that the subject is currently being discussed between the companies that are desirous to do the barter and the foreign trade institution.
Sulaiman told local media on Tuesday that the barter includes opening commercial centers for foreign countries in Syria, such as the countries of the Customs Union, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Iran, Iraq, India and the countries of Latin America and Ukraine, through studying the possibility of trading Ukrainian wheat with the Syrian oil.
The Syrian official emphasized that there are more than five companies from different Arab and foreign countries that have already voiced their willingness to barter, indicating that their offers have been transferred to specialized committees at the ministry to study the possibility of cooperating with them.
He added that the ministry would decide on this matter within a short period to ensure the interests of all parties.
Suleiman said that a request by one company has already been approved, adding that some commodities such as soft wheat, barley and rice will be swapped with the harsh Syrian wheat, cotton and raw cotton and phosphate.
"We are ready to export a lot of materials and commodities such as oil, garments, fabrics and all kinds of textile products, food and vegetables, shoes, phosphate and engineering equipment in exchange for importing some basic commodities, mainly the food basket of wheat, tea, sugar and rice," he said, stressing that the government would search for all competitive merits to book an area for the Syrian commodities in foreign markets.
He also noted that Syria would soon embark on a dialogue with the countries of the Customs Union, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to establish free trade agreements with these countries.
Syria has recently exchanged some agricultural products with Iran as it exported olive oil in exchange for importing 100,000 tons of potatoes.
The Ministry of Economy has alleged that it has resorted to barter to break the siege and sanctions imposed on Syria, noting that this step is capable of alleviating the negative aspects of the crisis in Syria and contribute in decreasing prices, especially as the country has experienced a shortage in many basic food items, forcing it to import wheat for the first time in the history of Syria.
There is also an increasing shortage in oil derivations.
The EU has slapped Syria with harsh economic sanctions including an embargo on purchasing or transporting Syrian oil and prohibiting companies from dealing with Syria or investing in it, in addition to withdrawing experts and staff, suspending funding, and imposing sanctions on Syrian petroleum companies.
Signs of gasoline crisis have clearly surfaced in the capital of Damascus, where long queues of vehicles stand in front of petrol stations waiting their turns for long hours, increasing thus traffic congestion that has plagued the city.
Some fuel stations have already closed their doors for lack of gasoline and diesel fuel.
One litter of diesel fuel that was used to be sold at 20 Syrian pounds before the start of the crisis 22 months ago, is now being sold at 100 pounds. Gasoline prices also hiked and a gas cylinder is now sold at no less than 2,000 pounds, up from 350 pounds nearly two years ago.
It is noteworthy that Syria's needs of gasoline reached 2.35 million cubic meters in 2010, equivalent to 1.77 million tons. Syrian refineries produce only 550,000 cubic meters at Homs Refinery, around 23.4 percent of the overall requirement, and 0.5 million cubic meters produced by the Banias refinery, which pose around 50 percent of the consumption, while the rest, estimated at 28 percent, is secured through imports.
Recent reports said that diesel tanks have already moved from Iraq to Syria to meet the need of electricity, which Syrians have increasingly used in heating and cooking owing to the shortage in fuels. This has forced the government to increase rationing hours from three hours to no less than seven hours a day.
Minister of Electricity Imad Khamis told local media that the rate of consumption of the electric power in Damascus only has lately increased by 45 percent when compared with the same period of last year.
The government said it has started rationing electricity to try and stave off an energy shortage.
The cutback has weighed heavily on industrial sector, forced some businesses to close and disrupted commerce and leisure. Many others have increased reliance on generators.