World Bulletin / News Desk
The Syrian government does not expect to import wheat this year because domestic grain supplies will be boosted by heavy rainfall and wider control over farmland, a minister said.
Hassan Safiyeh, the minister of internal trade and consumer protection, also told Reuters that a credit line extended by Iran to its Syrian ally had been unaffected by the collapse in world oil prices and fuel imports continued.
Safiyeh's ministry oversees the provision of heavily subsidised foodstuffs and fuel to Syrians in areas of government control, making it a vital arm of the state in a country about to enter its fifth year of conflict.
The state has lost control of oilfields and wide areas of agricultural land seized by insurgents during the conflict that has devastated the economy.
Wide areas of the north and east - where much of Syria's grain is grown and its oil is extracted - have been seized by the hardline Islamic State group.
Safiyeh said the state had won back farmland, and he expected a strong wheat harvest.
"We had acceptable output (last year), but this year output will be abundant, because this year the rains have been excellent, and the farmed lands are much wider. This year, there is no fear for wheat," Safiyeh said.
Last year, the government year imported wheat from "friendly states", he said. "I expect that if the season is this good and this strong, God willing, in 2015 we will not need to import."
He declined to give any figures for Syria's wheat production or imports, saying these were strategically sensitive.
The government, operating according to a socialist-inspired economic system, provides staples including sugar, rice, bread and cooking oil at subsidised prices, in additional to fuel.
Bread is sold at about a quarter of what its real cost.
The state in January increased the price of a standard bundle of bread by 40 percent to 35 lira (15 U.S. cents). Safiyeh said consumers had been protected from that increase by a 4,000 lira monthly allowance which Assad had ordered paid to state employees and retirees.
"Subsidising bread is a red line for the government," said Safiyeh, a lawyer from the coastal city of Latakia who assumed his post last August. When he was sworn in, Assad had told the government to secure the needs of the population "regardless of the circumstances", Safiyeh said.
IRANIAN CREDIT CONTINUES
While the state has lost control large areas of Syria during the conflict estimated to have killed 200,000 people, the bulk of Syrians still live in areas under its control.
The conflict has created more than 3 million refugees and displaced more than 6.5 million within Syria, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The World Food Programme says it provided food to 3.8 million people in hard-to-reach areas of Syria in 2014.
Having lost control of its oil wells, Syria has been forced to import crude. Iranian support has remained solid, despite the decline in world oil prices which are around half the level they were at last June, said Safiyeh.
"The import of petroleum products did not stop because of the fall in the oil price. It continued, with the Iranian credit line, and continues until now," Safieh. He did not give numbers.
"There is an Iranian credit line. The truth is there are excellent (credit) facilities, and also Russia stands with us and the BRICs are standing with us in any matters requiring the provision of necessary supplies," he said.
While the state has lost control of its oil fields, it is producing more than enough gas from fields, said Safiyeh. Syrian gas fields were currently producing the equivalent of 140,000 gas bottles a day, more than consumption of 120,000.
The state in January raised the price of subsidised diesel fuel in what Safiyeh said was an effort to stamp out a black market where it is sold for double or even more.
Explaining shortages, Safiyeh said cold weather and use of power generators had led to a surge in demand. The black market had not entirely been stamped out, he added.
He added that "despite four years of global war (against Syria) ... the government was still "ensuring food security".Last Mod: 22 Şubat 2015, 17:33