IDLIB, Syria — The prices of foodstuffs in areas run by the Syrian Salvation Government (affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib remained unchanged while the value of the Turkish lira strengthened against the US dollar. In these areas, the Turkish lira has been in circulation for about six months.
The Turkish lira’s rise in the past weeks rekindled the hope of citizens in Idlib of seeing the prices of basic goods drop proportionately. At one point, the lira had fallen to more than 8 to the dollar. But the Turkish lira recently has bounced back, strengthening at one point to 6.9 against the dollar.
However, in recent days, the Turkish lira has weakened again, approaching 7.25 to the dollar Feb. 23 (it was around 7.15 Feb. 24). This slight drop led to an increase in the prices of certain goods in areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Syria.
Indeed, it has become evident to citizens that, in general, whenever the Turkish lira drops, prices of goods increase, but that when the Turkish lira rises, the prices of goods remain unchanged.
While fuel prices managed by Watad Petroleum, an Idlib-based company affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, did register a slight decrease, this was not commensurate with the improvement in the Turkish lira. Fuel prices would usually go up with every nosedive the Turkish lira took against the dollar.
Economist Hayyan Abu Rashid of Idlib told Al-Monitor, “Commodity prices have remained unchanged as most of these goods, if not all, are priced in Turkish liras and not in US dollars. If they were priced in dollars, their price would have fallen with the fall of the dollar against the Turkish lira.”
He said, “Merchants are skeptical. They fear this improvement of the Turkish lira may be temporary or even fake, amid the lack of serious control by the concerned officials. Thus, merchants and goods suppliers are not setting their prices according to exchange rates. Yet the positive effect of the increase in the Turkish lira exchange rate will be felt by those who receive their salaries or income in the Turkish lira as their purchasing power will definitely increase.”
Mohammad al-Ali, a media activist residing in Idlib, told Al-Monitor, “Prices are unhinged. For nearly a month, the dollar was equal to 7.85 Turkish liras. Today, it [dropped] with no change in prices of commodities and goods.”
Ali said that if the Turkish lira dropped, even slightly, prices would soar dramatically. “The supply efforts are not at the required level. Hotlines have been allocated for complaints, but this is far from being the solution to the crisis. The solution would be to set a general list of prices for all goods and monitor any violation. Complaints would then be filed when prices are not conformant.”
Mohammad Daaboul, director of public relations at the Ministry of Economy and Resources of the Salvation Government, told Al-Monitor, “Prices need time to adapt to the exchange rate fluctuations, while merchants need to feel reassured and also need time to reduce their prices.”
He said some merchants could have bought their goods at the old high price and still want to recover their money while making profits. “Unfortunately, this is the [policy adopted] by merchants everywhere. To cut their losses, some merchants would shut down their stores for a specific period of time until the exchange rate stabilizes.”
Daaboul added, “Our teams deployed across all liberated areas to monitor the market’s movement, control sales and purchase operations and sanction any commercial, industrial or service facility that exploits the people. The number of violations related to supply ranges, on a weekly basis, between 100 and 150.”
He continued, “We issued several decisions aimed to control market movements, most notably a decision that requires all commercial, industrial, agricultural and service facilities to place the final price for the consumer on the label or cover, clearly and explicitly. Also another decision was issued capping the maximum profit to be reaped by the importer, producer, wholesaler and retailer at not more than 25%. This decision listed the goods that are deemed basic goods. Another decision determined the profit margin on vegetables and fruits. Our markets are like a free market where prices are controlled by supply, demand and quality. We monitor and control, but we cannot impose or set a fixed price on all goods due to their great diversity. For example, there are more than 30 types of rice, and each type has its own price. Yet, we have fixed the price of basic goods such as bread, fuel and human medicines.”
Omar Hamza, a shopkeeper residing in the town of al-Dana in the Idlib countryside, said merchants are not the ones to blame for the surge in prices. “We pay taxes to the local authorities, the Salvation Government, and these taxes are behind the increase of prices,” he told Al-Monitor.
He said that prices of goods would have been almost fixed if Turkey sold the Syrian merchants goods in dollars.
Hamza said, “Production in the Syrian opposition-controlled areas no longer meets the local market’s demand of vegetables and other goods. We are forced to import goods from Turkey and this increases prices. When the crossings with the areas controlled by the Syrian regime were open, vegetables and fruits were sold at acceptable prices. But, when goods are imported from Turkey, their price doubles. The purchasing power of the Turkish citizen is completely different from that of the Syrian citizen in the north of Syria. In Turkey, prices are proportional to the Turkish citizen’s average daily income, which is way higher than our average daily income.”
Khaled al-Ahmad, 45, a father of six living in a displaced camp in the Idlib countryside who works as a construction worker, told Al-Monitor, “When the Turkish lira stood at 7.95 for the dollar, the prices were already high. A bag of bread, for example, was sold at 2.5 Turkish liras. Today, this same bag is sold at 6.95 Turkish liras. This is also true for chicken, which was sold at 20 Turkish liras per kilo when the lira was low. Today, despite the bounce of the Turkish lira, the price of one kilo [2.2 pounds] of chicken has dropped only half a lira to 19.5 Turkish liras. Fuel prices have decreased by only 5 piasters.”
Ahmad added, “Merchants seized the opportunity to increase profits at the expense of the citizens amid the absence of a strong authority capable of ensuring consumer protection. With every slight drop in the price of the Turkish lira, prices of goods would madly surge. Paradoxically, when the value of the Turkish lira rises, the prices would barely decrease. Meanwhile, the Salvation Government is also draining our sources of living and purchasing power. It is refraining from taking any actual measures to curb the greed of merchants who exploit the crises and the absence of efficient supervision. Prices differ from one grocery to another. This proves the lack of any supervision.”