On the other hand, Syrian imports from the US between January and September fell 20% to $100 million over the same period in 2004, the report on Tuesday said.

 

The fall in imports was attributed to the Syria Accountability Act of 2003 which bans all US exports to Syria except food or medicine.

 

The United States accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorism and of allowing fighters to cross into Iraq to fight US-led forces there.

 

Ratib Shallah, chairman of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce, said Syria had no problem doing business with the US, adding that he hoped relations at all levels between the two countries would improve.

 

Syria's main exports are food and textiles.

 

Tourist resort

 

Separately, Syria has unveiled plans for a $15 billion tourist resort to be built on Mount Hermon, overlooking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Lebanon, a Syrian official has been quoted as saying by the press.

 

Syria's rulers are struggling to
kickstart a stagnant economy

The tourism project, to include hotels, shopping centres, skiing and other sports facilities reachable by cable car, is to be developed by an unspecified group of Syrian, Kuwaiti and Saudi investors, Mustapha Kafri, director of the country's investment authority, said on Tuesday.

 

The government has given its tentative go-ahead on the project, which is expected to be carried out over the next 15 years.

 

Mount Hermon is 2814 metres high and is the highest mountain in either Syria or Israel. The southern and western slopes of the mountain were captured by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

 

Also on Tuesday, the European Union announced a €100 million ($120 million) loan to extend the country's fixed-line telephone network.

 

Year of investment

 

The EU delegation in Syria announced said the loan would connect 430,000 new telephone customers in most rural areas.

 

Kafri characterised 2005 as the "year of investment" in Syria. Some 70 projects presented by Syrian investors, worth $1.6 billion, were approved by the state's Superior Investment Council in September.

 

Economists estimate that $8-9 billion in investment is needed each year to produce a 7% gross domestic product growth rate in Syria, compared to around 4% currently.