Presidential Address


Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Syria. Tonight, we are gathered in one of the oldest trading centres in the world, which over the generations has instilled and refined a mercantile instinct that Syrians the world over are recognized for. Our gathering here bears testament to our commitment to build on that heritage and reassume our position in the global economy.

Two years ago we met in the centre of Damascus, today we gather in its oldest quarter. So what’s changed I hear you ask? If we judge by the choice of location alone, some may conclude that we have gone back in time. Our reform program paints a different picture, one that sees Syria moving forward.

I can still clearly remember my meetings with the delegation from the previous banking conference. The constructive views and helpful suggestions that we received have proven highly beneficial in formulating the steps that have contributed to the wider reform process. This year we again welcome your input.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The interval between these two conferences was an exceptional time for Syria and the Middle East. Understanding Syria's political context is an important way of shedding light on the economic situation and of course the implications for foreign investment.
We are meeting at a time of great opportunity for a comprehensive regional peace settlement. For decades now, the modern Middle East has been dogged by political instability with its repercussions of poverty, tension and extremism. The war in Iraq has demonstrated that radical and ill-conceived policies are in no country’s interest and confirmed what we have maintained from the start that peace and stability is the recipe for development and prosperity around the world.

Furthermore, the war in Lebanon has highlighted that if the core political issues continue to be ignored and the international community does not focus its efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace, armies will not achieve anything, no matter how strong. This all begs for a revision of, and break with, previous policies and in particular a change in strategy for dealing with problems in our region.
Syria continues to maintain that once real and enduring peace is established, security will certainly prevail. It is my true belief that today we find ourselves in as good a position to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace as may ever be presented to us. With the necessary political will and courage we not only can achieve peace in our time but ensure stability for our children and future generations to come.

And with peace of course comes economic prosperity. For Syria and the region, the implications are profound.

The Middle East’s economic potential will truly be unleashed, attracting stronger foreign investment, more liberal markets, modern infrastructure and of course boosting tourism.

Not only will this help the region meet its core challenges of unemployment, economic growth and prosperity, but it will also go a long way in promoting dialogue between cultures and countering the spread of extremism, which today stands as one of the main impediments to stability and growth around the world.

And yet despite the drawbacks of the current political climate, we are today more determined than ever to realize our goals.
2005 saw Syria’s economic growth reach 5.5%, a marked improvement on just over 0% in 2000. Though falling short on our ambitions, the increase clearly surpassed our expectations and was in no small part attributable to the series of government reforms enacted over the last five years.

Economically, improvements in the taxation and exchange rate system have helped strengthen the economy’s fiscal and monetary base. New legislation in the financial and insurance sectors is also paving the way for the country’s first stock market and the increasing emergence of private banks and insurance companies. Eliminating restrictions on imports, lower tariffs for local manufacturing and increased access to foreign exchange have gradually begun to liberalize trade. Recently concluded bilateral and regional trade agreements should also have further positive effects on trade liberalization.
Yet in spite of this steady progress, we cannot afford any complacency.

A lot of work still needs to be done to strengthen our judiciary system in order to ensure economic practices are well regulated and more transparent. The current reform and increased investment in our education system is designed to equip a new generation with the skills necessary to speed the development process and attract foreign investment. If Syria is to have a modern and dynamic economy, it is vital that the country's human resources are further developed, young Syrian men and women must be encouraged to strengthen their abilities and motivation to foster a culture of creativity and entrepreneurship.

In the financial sector, there is still someway to go before the banking system can begin to act as one of the main pillars of our economy. This process must be supplemented by efforts to provide the private sector with greater financial flexibility in the face of an increasingly liberal trading environment.

In saying this, we have our reasons to be optimistic about the region’s future. Our clear vision enables us to play an active role in pushing events in the right direction; sparing blood, innocence and resources. We have the support of the people to achieve a just and lasting peace in our time and there is plenty of room to capitalize on the economic progress achieved so far.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over centuries, Syria has played a pivotal role in building bridges between peoples, civilizations and cultures. We must ask ourselves what more can be added to this rich heritage.

Simply, our generation must be the peacemakers and capitalize on the benefits, because as we are all too aware, peace and prosperity cannot be viewed in isolation.

No doubt the road ahead is a long one. Nonetheless, we will continue to pursue our objectives and do all we can to overcome the challenges ahead. Thank you again for lending your support to our country’s reform program. I wish you a successful conference.


Other Speeches

Plantium Sponsor:
Said Holdings Limited

Gold Sponsors:
BLOM Bank Group
Fouad Takla Company
Banque Bemo Saudi Fransi
Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce
Syria Gulf Bank / Syria Kuwait Insurance Company
Members of the KIPCO Group
MAS Economic Group
Syria Shell Petroleum Development B.V.

Silver Sponsors:
ASSIA Corporate
Al Baraka Group
Sham Bank
Inana Group
International Bank for Trade & Finance
Yazigi & Company
Arab Advertising Organization
Al Iqtissadiya





Bronze Sponsors:
Khwanda Group
The Arab Orient Insurance Company