As the crisis in Syria has continued, Egypt's trade with Syria has declined, compounding the effect of Egypt's own domestic political changes on its economy, officials and analysts told Al-Shorfa.
Egypt has lost $900 million since 2011 because of suspended trade, while losses on the Syrian side are estimated at $400 million, Fathi Mustafa, a member of the technical and economic committee for Egypt and Syria at the Egyptian Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade, told Al-Shorfa.
"All the recent efforts, [initiated] prior to the January revolution in Egypt, that had been intended to increase economic ties between the two countries and increase the volume of trade, are now frozen and will remain so until stability is restored in Syria," Mustafa said.
He said the volume of trade between the two countries increased before 2011, reaching $1.3 billion in 2010, up from $1.15 billion in 2009. The two countries had established a target trade volume of $3 billion by 2012.
"In addition to losses on both sides resulting from the decline in trade, there were other losses that hurt the banking sector," Mustafa said. "Approval was obtained to establish a Syrian-Egyptian bank with $220 million in capital and the possibility of a capital increase as the bank expanded its branch network, but that project was halted. So is a plan to unify customs between the two countries, which would have had a positive impact on traders in both countries."
Mustafa said that many Egyptian projects planned for implementation in Syrian coastal areas, including Tartus, were put on hold.
The two countries also have a joint business council composed of more than 160 businessmen, but its activity has been frozen for over a year, he said.
Egypt's main exports to Syria include medicine, chemicals, cosmetics, construction materials, glass and some food exports, especially dairy products, according to Suad Abdel-Shafi, head of statistics at the ministry's chamber of commerce.
"Until 2010, the number of Syrian companies that entered the Egyptian market was around 1,000, but the number has dropped to 350 companies because of the situation in Syria," she said. "Syrian investment in Egypt in 2010 totalled $400 million, primarily in tourism and restaurants, in addition to agriculture and information technology."
Mounir Hamad, director of international co-operation and trade agreements at the ministry, said Egypt's position on economic sanctions against Syria was that the sanctions should not hurt the Syrian people and that the export of goods meant for consumption by the Syrian population should not be suspended.
"However, political and military developments made it impossible to continue trade activity with Syria and it dropped to the point of being almost non-existent," Hamad said.
Some on-going trade remains between the two countries, notably natural gas, which is pumped to Syria at a daily average of 30 million cubic feet. The Arab Gas Pipeline originates in Egypt and runs through Jordan, carrying natural gas to Syria and Lebanon.