Syria is punishing its own people by suspending a free trade agreement with Turkey in retaliation for Turkish sanctions against the Damascus regime, the Turkish economy minister said Sunday.
By cutting off bilateral trade, "the Syrian government punishes its own people, industrialists, exporters and entrepreneurs," Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said in a statement carried by the state-run Anatolia news agency.
Damascus decided last week to suspend the 2004 trade pact after Turkey, one of Syria's closest economic partners, followed in the footsteps of the Arab League in announcing a series of sanctions on the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad for its months-long crackdown on anti-regime protesters that has claimed more than 4,000 lives according to the United Nations.
Among the measures, Ankara freezed trade and severed links between the two countries' central banks.
Turkey has a trade surplus with Syria, exporting goods worth a total of $1.8 billion (1.3 billion euros) to its neighbour in 2010, while imports from Syria were $663 million, accounting for only 0.3 per cent of Turkey's total imports, Caglayan said.
However, 10.6 per cent of Syria's total imports are from Turkey, he added.
"Suspending the agreement means ... Syria will be exposed to economic problems more, as it already suffers from procurement issues," Caglayan said.
The free trade agreement, reached after long negotiations, marked a thaw in bilateral relations after a long period of friction.
The deal was followed in 2009 by the creation of a joint panel tasked with forging closer ties.