Syria eyes $30 bln foreign investments-FinMin
* Says "serious" about Islamic finance
* Government also to invest $30 billion
By Cecilia Valente
LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - Syria expects to attract $30 billion of foreign private investment in the next five years, as it encourages Islamic banking development and opens up its economy, the finance minister said on Thursday.
The government is "serious" about supporting the development of Islamic finance in the country which has partially opened to private enterprise after decades of nationalisation and state control, Mohammad Al-Hussein told Reuters.
"We are now interested in supporting Islamic finance in Syria," he said on the sidelines of The International Arab Banking Summit 2009.
"In the next five years we want to attract $30 billion and in addition to that the same amount will come from the government," he told Reuters.
Syria now has two Islamic banks, which have major Gulf shareholding, out of 12 privately owned banks after the state relinquished its monopoly on the sector six years ago.
Hussein told delegates of the conference the government had issued more licences to Islamic banks and Syrian insurers were considering the principles of Islamic mutual insurance, or Takaful. "I welcome these activities," he said.
Asked whether the government would issue Islamic bonds or sukuk, Al-Hussein said: "For the time being we are supporting Islamic institutions and we have not thought about it, but in the future for sure it (sukuk) will be one of our interests."
Syria, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2004, has embarked on limited reforms to counter the damage from sanctions and spur economic growth after decades of stagnation and government reliance on oil revenue. The Baath party has ruled Syria since 1963.
Officials say the new policies have helped achieved an average of around six percent growth in the last several years.
In March the finance minister opened the Damascus Securities Exchange, a new bourse he hopes to change the culture of Syria's family owned businesses and encourage higher standards of accounting and management.
The stock exchange only hosts 10 companies. The minister said more listings were in the works and the government would consider foreign companies once the domestic component was strengthened.
"The financial sector in Syria has not reached the level achieved in other countries," he said. "We are interested to learn from other systems in the world."
(For the Hedge Hub blog, visit: blogs.reuters.com/hedgehub/ For the Global Investing blog, visit: here) (Reporting by Cecilia Valente, additional reporting Nadim Ladki and John Irish. Editing by Victoria Main)
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