Increasing yarn prices, the Iraq war and American sanctions have all had a negative influence on Syrian exports to the EU - the main export destination for Syrian textiles, writes Jozef De Coster.
Syria had a well developed textile sector many centuries before ancient Greece and Rome.

Today, the textile industry is still one of the main pillars of the Syrian economy. Employing around 500,000 people, this industry (clothing included) represents nearly 30% of total industrial employment and more than 40% of total exports, excluding oil.

After nationalisation of most of its textile industry in the late 50s, Syria was rather slow to fundamentally review (in 1990) the relationship between its public and private sectors.

Today, the public sector, represented by GOTI (General Organisation for Textile Industry) employs fewer than 30,000 workers or 6% of all Syrian textile and clothing employees, but it still produces nearly 90% of the cotton yarn used in the country.

There are eight state-owned spinning companies. Lattakia Cotton Spinning Co (with a capacity of 27,000 tons/year), Jableh Spinning Co (24,000 tons/year) and the General Company for Cotton Yarn, in Idlib (20,000 tons/year), are the leading ones.

Government regulations
Government regulations forbid domestic textile producers from importing yarn that can be sourced domestically. As Syria has no manmade fibre production, Syrian weavers are allowed to import synthetic fibres (with only 1% import duty), as well as synthetic yarns and fabrics.

In 2002, the government revised downwards the pricing of cotton yarns, to bring it in line with world market prices. However, in June 2003, the government increased domestic cotton yarn prices by 35% and in March 2004 by 14%.

Not surprisingly, a number of leading private companies, such as Deiri, Sabbagh & Sharabati and Hajjar & Co have been focusing on the production of synthetic yarns.

Aleppo, in northern Syria, is the heart of the Syrian textile industry.

The Italian Institute for Industrial Promotion (IPI), which recently examined the 'cluster' characteristics of Aleppo, praised the city's strong cultural tradition in textiles and garments, its high degree of specialisation, the critical mass of firms and the supporting presence of educational structures and institutions like the Chambers of Industry and Commerce.

Production and exports
As far as production statistics are reliable (private companies tend to underestimate their data), Syria annually produces around 100,000 tons of cotton yarn, 30,000 tons of cotton textiles, 25,000 tons of synthetic textiles and 9,000 tons of woollen textiles.

The EU is the main export destination for Syrian textiles. A number of direct and indirect factors, such as yarn price increases, the Iraq war and American sanctions, negatively influence Syrian exports.

However, the export of fabrics is developing well. Exports of yarns and home textiles, on the other hand, have been dropping.

Table: Syrian textile exports to the EU25, in EUR000 (fibres not included)

click table to enlarge

By Jozef De Coster.