After three years of ‘stagnation,’ Turkish market opens to Idlib merchants

Idlib merchants have a new, and only, market for export. After a three-year freeze, local traders registered with the Free Idlib Provincial Council will now be able to export to Turkey.

The agreement between the Turkish government and the Victory Army will have a “positive effect on the economic situation in [rebel-held] territories,” says Suheil Musilmani, who heads the province’s legal office overseeing registration.

“Exports will be products that do not affect food security in rebel-held areas, such as cumin and cilantro, for example,” Musilmani tells Syria Direct’s Muhammad al-Haj Ali. There are no manufactured materials.”

Q: What impact will registration have on trade in the province?

Registration will positively affect the flow of trade between both sides. Coordination will organize import and export and eliminate the unmonitored and unregulated trade.

The stimulation of trade and exchange will also have a positive effect on the economic situation in [rebel-held] territories. Syrian traders will be able to market their products to Turkey after [approximately three years] of stagnation due to the lack of access [to external trade partners] by sea or land.

[Ed.: Thriving smuggling routes in northern Syria will remain largely unaffected by the step, which is aimed at legitimizing and expanding above-board trade with Turkey by Syrians in opposition-held territories.]

Beyond that, the Turkish government needs a legitimate Syrian partner to do business with. The Turkish government will not accept the import or export of goods by Syrian traders unless they are registered with the Idlib provincial council, which is a legitimate civilian authority because it is elected by the people and recognized internationally [as part of the opposition interim government].

Q: Before this decision, what was the trade situation between Idlib and Turkey?

The export of goods by Syrian traders stopped at the end of 2012 when [the Free Syrian Army] opposition took over the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

A trader’s registration with the provincial council gives him a legitimate legal status recognized by both sides, particularly the Turkish government.

Q: What goods might Idlib traders export to Turkey?

Exports will be products that do not affect food security in rebel-held areas, such as cumin and cilantro, for example. There are also surplus goods in excess of the need in local markets, such as figs, olives and cherries. There are no manufactured materials.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.