The United States (US) has warned firms and businesses who participate in the annual Damascus International Fair could risk having sanctions placed on them.
In a statement posted on Twitter by the US Embassy in Syria – which closed its mission at the start of the conflict – America said: “We reiterate our warning that anyone doing business w/ the Assad regime or its associates is exposing themselves to the possibility of US sanctions,” after receiving reports of increased participation in the fair.
We've received reports that some regional businessmen or chambers of commerce plan to participate in #Damascus international trade fair. We reiterate our warning that anyone doing business w/ Assad regime or its associates is exposing themselves to the possibility of US sanctions
— U.S. Embassy Syria (@USEmbassySyria) August 27, 2019
The fair, which began on Wednesday and will end on 6 September, is a commercial exhibition held in Syria’s capital on an annual basis, and attracts a gathering of businesses and organisations from countries around the world who showcase their goods and services.
It was originally launched in 1954, making it the oldest such fair in the Middle East, but throughout the past decade it has witnessed a period of turbulence due to the Syrian civil war. It was cancelled in 2012 and only resumed in 2017 once the conflict was pushed out to provinces away from Damascus.
In its first year back, the exhibition hosted mainly Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian and Russian companies due to the US sanctions on the Syrian regime and the its tarnished reputation for human rights violations. This year’s fair, however, will reportedly hosting around 400 Arab and international businessmen, with 16 companies from Oman and a 40-member delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) participating.
The participation of both Arab countries marks the first time any of the Gulf states have taken part in the annual fair since Syria was outcast from the Arab League in 2011, following its brutal suppression of the protests throughout the country and the human rights violations resulting from it. It signifies a growing trend among Arab countries to resume relations with the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, with the Arab League itself considering Assad’s re-admittance to its fold.
China has condemned the US’ threat of sanctions, with its ambassador Feng Biao in Damascus saying that the US threats to impose sanctions on participants at the fair would not deter the 58 Chinese companies from being involved.
In an interview with the state news agency Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) earlier this week, Feng said: “Damascus International Fair is considered as a source of power for the Syrian people and a window to develop Syria’s economy.”
Russia also condemned the US, with its Foreign Ministry accusing Washington of trying to sabotage the fair, saying: “Blatant attempts to undermine the Syrian leadership’s reconstruction efforts are harmful to Syria’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”