Insight: Syria's economy goes underground as black market thrives

Thu Sep 5, 2013 3:38am EDT
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By Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Saul

ONCUPINAR, Turkey/LONDON (Reuters) - With his truck fully laden with vegetable oil, driver Mustafa Demir makes his regular trip to the Syrian border from Turkey to sell to rebels desperate for provisions as war closes off normal trade channels.

"There is so much demand from the Syrian side. There is demand for everything. Last time I was carrying paper napkins," he said.

"I usually deliver to the Syrian rebels on the other side. They bring their own lorry and the transfer is done on the other side. And then I leave," Demir, 55, said, as he stood by his vehicle at the front of a queue of trucks waiting to transit through Turkey's busy Oncupinar border crossing.

Every day, hundreds of trucks piled high with goods ranging from cooking oil to cement and nappies form queues stretching for miles at Oncupinar, now a bustling hub for trade with Syria.

At other crossing points along Syria's hilly border with Turkey, people can be seen with suitcases crammed with goods such as baby milk powder to sell back home, where food prices are soaring.

The scenes being played out along the frontier are part of a broader shift in patterns of trade with Syria, where the conflict now in its third year presents growing opportunities for those willing to take the risks.

"The chaotic situation in Syria, with decreasing central control over the economy, has provided new opportunities for those foreign traders that do not have established links to the regime," said Torbjorn Soltvedt of risk consultancy Maplecroft.

The war economy means canny traders can set up their own commodity deals to fit local circumstances and the black market is unlikely to be much disrupted by any foreign air strikes directed at President Bashar al-Assad.   Continued...

A street vendor sells traditional bread before the time for iftar, or breaking fast, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Aleppo, July 16, 2013. Picture taken July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman