Exclusive: Syria Grain Trade Signals Alarm for Assad
Syria is struggling to meet its grain import needs because of sanctions, raising the risk of bread shortages that could sap public support for President Bashar al-Assad as he tries to snuff out a 15-month-old uprising.
Trade sources said a reluctance among foreign banks, shipowners and grain traders to sell to import-dependent Syria - even though food is not itself subject to sanctions - has forced Damascus into an array of unusually small deals, many arranged by shadowy middlemen around the Middle East and Asia.
On Friday, in what might prove to be a turning point on a path toward a politically corrosive food crisis, government data showed the domestic grain harvest falling well short of target and the state grains agency failing to find a single acceptable offer to fulfill a major import tender it issued last month to buy animal feed for its livestock farmers.
“Syrian purchase interest has fallen off in the last 10 days or so,” one trade source familiar with exports to Syria of wheat and other grains for human consumption and animal feed told Reuters. “Banks are becoming tougher in checking compliance with sanctions. It is becoming more difficult to get finance from any banks.”