Reciprocating India’s continuous support to Syria, the country has allowed tax relaxations and special provisions for Indian companies willing to participate in the 70th Damascus International Trade Fair that starts on 6 September. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to attend the trade fair. She will be travelling with a high-level business delegation to participate in the Joint Business Commission meeting coinciding with the trade fair.

In an effort to promote Indian companies to invest in Syria, the Embassy of Syria here has also requested the Indian government to re-start Syrian Airlines and open a branch of the Central Bank of Syria, in India’s capital. Before the civil war in Syria started in 2011, Syrian Airlines used to have direct flights from New Delhi to Damascus thrice a week. The embassy intends to re-start it to boost trade ties.

Dr Riad Kamel Abbas, Syria’s ambassador to India, told The Sunday Guardian, “We are expecting 30 public and private Indian companies looking for investment opportunities to participate in the trade fair. Our government has allowed relaxation of duties on several goods which are otherwise under the restricted list. Indian companies coming to the Damascus trade fair can bring along a tanker full of their goods free of cost to sell in Syria. I request Indian businessmen to contact the Syrian embassy and participate in the trade fair.”

Thanking the Indian government for standing with Syria during the conflict, Abbas added, “The Syrian government appreciates India’s stand on Syria. We are thankful to the Indian government for providing help during the crisis, especially in providing medical aid and food. We distributed all of them to the needy.”

Indian companies participating in the fair would also include PSU giants such as the ONGC and BHEL, among several construction and IT Indian giants. According to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs, secretaries have been ordered to rope in as many Indian companies as possible to attend the Damascus trade fair, given that Swaraj will also be travelling.

A businessman who will be participating in the delegation visiting Syria said: “The officials have repeatedly comforted our doubts and encouraged us to bring in more Indian businessmen to invest in Syria. India has been enormously generous to Syria so far and that approach is visible in government interactions too.”

As of now, Syria has secured $1 million in medical aid from the Indian government and 1,000 scholarships for Syrian students willing to study in India since the conflict started. Before the 2011 conflict, India had signed a $320 million power plant project, overseen by the Bharat Heavy Electrical Ltd (BHEL), along with a steel plant in the ancient city of Hama on the Orontes River and they are pending completion. Since the civil war broke out, Indian and Syrian embassies have never been shut down and have managed to sustain strong bilateral relationship. Damascus had also agreed to provide names of Indian citizens involved with terrorist organisations fighting in Syrian alongside the Islamic State or Daesh.

However, security of investments remains a major concern for businessmen across the world travelling to Syria. Voicing concerns of the business community, a member of the delegation visiting the Damascus trade fair said, “The perception is that since Syria is a war-torn country, there will be big opportunities to grow in its starved market, but the uncertainty and safety challenges are a huge deterrent.”

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