Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday in a boost for their struggling economies following a push by Arab states to reintegrate a country they have shunned during its decade-long war.
Syria, which blames Western sanctions for its economic woes, hopes wider business links with its southern neighbour will help it recover from a devastating war and attract much-needed foreign currency.
“The aim of these understandings is to boost trade exchange between the two countries to achieve the interests of every party,” Jordan’s minister of industry and trade, Maha Ali, told state-owned al-Mamlaka television.
Officials in Jordan, a close United States ally, and Lebanon have urged Washington to ease sanctions on Syria to facilitate trade.
Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt – another close US ally – this month reached agreement for Egyptian natural gas to be sent to Lebanon via Syria using a pipeline built some 20 years ago in an Arab cooperation project.
Arab states cut ties with Syria during the war, which the United Nations has said killed at least 350,209 people.
US-allied Arab states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backed opposition groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad for years but Damascus was able to crush the rebels with military backing from Russia and Iran.
Although the Jaber crossing has been partially open since 2018 after the Syrian government drove rebels from the south, trade has yet to recover to its $1bn prewar level.
Jordanian officials said a visiting trade delegation from Syria, led by economy, trade, agriculture, water and electricity ministers, would discuss lifting tariff barriers.
Before the conflict in Syria, the Nasib-Jaber crossing was a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Europe and Turkey and the Gulf.
Businessmen from Jordan had largely shunned dealing with Syria after the 2019 Caesar Act – the toughest US sanctions yet that banned foreign companies trading with Damascus.
Amman hopes cross-border trade and renewed transport links will help boost its debt-ridden economy, badly hit last year by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jordanian businessmen have lobbied the government to ask Washington to ease restrictions on imports from Syria, where traders have long had close partnerships.
Syria’s only normally operating frontier crossing has been with Lebanon, and in recent years Iraq after the reopening of the Qaim crossing in 2019.
Al-Assad has recovered most of Syria, but significant areas remain outside his control. Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest – the last rebel stronghold – and US forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.