Syria joins regional meeting in Amman on agricultural exchange in the Levant

Jordan has blamed Syrian regime forces for drug smuggling into the kingdom

Olive trees in northern Jordan, near the border with Syria. Reuters
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The agriculture ministers of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria discussed on Sunday removing obstacles to food trade between them at a meeting in Amman, official Jordanian media said.

The meeting was notable for the attendance of Syrian agricultural minister Hasan Qatana. Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon are proponents of regional accommodation with President Bashar Al Assad.

His regime was largely ostracised for its wide use of deadly force against the 2011 revolt against five decades of Assad family rule, and later chemical attacks against civilian areas.

In the last few years, Jordan and other Arab countries have been normalising ties with the government in Damascus.

"Joint co-operation and agricultural integration would help us confront the ongoing global crisis, which could lead to drops in the food supply," Mr Qatana told reporters.

Food prices have soared in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, one of the world's top producers of grain — particularly wheat, and edible oils. Rising fuel costs, also linked to the war, have added to the burden.

Jordanian Agriculture Minister Khaled Al Huneifat outlined issues relating to quarantine procedures as well transport and transit fees and procedures, as having hindered trade.

"Successive crises, wars and unrest have damaged (joint) agricultural activities," Mr Huneifat said.

Jordan has been a main proponent among Middle Eastern countries for accommodation with Damascus, despite the smuggling of Captagon and other drugs from Syria to Jordan.

Over the last several months, Jordanian officials have increasingly blamed the Syrian military and pro-Iranian militias for facilitating the drug flows. The US government also says the Iran-backed Hezbollah has profited from the Captagon trade.

The official Jordanian news agency said that Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi met in New York on Friday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and discussed "the challenge of drug smuggling."

The agency did not give details. It said the meeting was part of several meetings Mr Al Safadi had with foreign officials on Friday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 5:45 AM