The Herald Tribune
Three-day conference on economic reform opens in Damascus
The Associated Press

A business conference geared at integrating Syria in global economy opened in Damascus on Saturday to review practical and legislative steps taken by the government to modernize the country's banking sector.

A new package of important reforms in the public and private banking sectors will be passed in 2007 to allow foreign ownership of banks and companies, Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria's deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, told the opening session.

The minister said a recently endorsed plan for the establishment of a Syrian stock exchange would help attract more foreign investment in Syria.

The conference, organized by the Syrian-British Society, will also discuss the possibility of allowing some international banking groups to establish branches in Syria, the official SANA news agency said. A few foreign banks, including two Islamic ones, have received banking licenses in recent years and are expected to start operations soon.

Since taking power in 2000, President Bashar al Assad has taken small steps toward liberalizing the economy, but political and economic reforms remain very limited.

In a bid to open up the economy after decades of socialist-style policies, Syria's government passed legislation in 2000 permitting private ownership of banks. The decision meant private banks could return to Syria for the first time in early four decades.


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