In Iraq’s Mosul, a wholesale market revives trade legacy

An Iraqi salesman waits for customers at the entrance of a shop at the Al-Bursa wholesale market in Mosul. The city has been a commercial hub for centuries. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2020

In Iraq’s Mosul, a wholesale market revives trade legacy

  • Even after the guns fell silent, many families hesitated to return as the city lacked services

MOSUL: Mountains of kitchen supplies, back-to-back butchers: the historic wholesale market in Iraq’s Mosul is battling the odds — from extremists to epidemic — to revive the city’s reputation as a trading hub.

The northern city was a commercial hub for centuries, strategically located along transport routes linking Baghdad to the south, Syria to the west, Turkey further north and Iran in the east.

Thirty years ago, Mosul opened a bulk market known as “Al-Bursa,” whose shops sold food, homeware and other goods directly to consumers as well as to smaller shops.

“The market raked in around $12 million every month,” said economist Mohammad Naef, a native of Mosul.

But those golden days came to a screeching halt in 2014, when the Daesh group began a brutal reign over Mosul that ended in 2017 after months of fierce fighting.

West Mosul, where Al-Bursa lies, was left in ruins — but its entrepreneurial residents have worked hard to revive it.

The first to return was young Abdallah Mahmud, 27, who sells cleaning supplies and is proud of Al-Bursa’s heritage. “The Bursa opened in 1990 and as the years went by, these simple little shops became the most important market in the whole province,” he said.

Of the 500 shops there in 2014, around 300 have already reopened with individual financing, he said.

The level of trade has made an impressive recovery but has yet to reach previous levels.

“Today, Al-Bursa’s monthly transactions cap at between 8 to 10 million, as many businessmen fled and never came back,” said Naef.

Mosul and the broader Nineveh province saw the highest rates of displacement during the war against Daesh.

Even after the guns fell silent, many families hesitated to return as large parts of the city still lacked key services including water, electricity or schools.

Al-Bursa represents a return to normalcy.

“Residents started to return, and it helped bring life back to the whole area,” said Obeida Al-Aysha, another 27-year-old trader who frequents the market.

On any given morning, shoppers flood Al-Bursa on foot, in cars or by motorcycle to pick up everything from children’s toys to coffee or freshly ground spices.

Customers say it is a one-stop-shop for all their needs, but wholesalers find it convenient, too.

“It saves me crazy amounts of time and tons of energy. Before, I had to go sell at each of the little markets in the towns outside of Mosul,” said farmer Khalaf Oweid.

“Now, I come here early in the morning and the owners of the little shops all come to me to stock their own stalls. I don’t have to put myself out like before.”

Yunes Abed, 50, shops at Al-Bursa to stock his food store in the city’s west.

“I can find everything here, but some shop-owners still haven’t returned,” Abed said, adding they were hoping to be compensated for assets lost in the war.

Mosul’s residents have applied for compensation from the government for homes, cars and storefronts destroyed in fighting, but few have been reimbursed in three years. Indeed, some 200 of Al-Bursa’s original shops remain abandoned, their metal doors still blown off and pockmarked walls tagged with graffiti.

“Why this destruction?” reads one message scrawled in black on a collapsed concrete beam near Al-Bursa.

Shopkeepers are also struggling to compete with cheaper, mass-produced imports from Iraq’s neighbors, including Turkey.

Daesh’s takeover of Mosul and surrounding farmland in 2014 cut off farmers and local producers from the Iraqi market, creating a gap that Turkish goods swiftly filled.

“About 90 percent of the products available now at Al-Bursa are imported,” estimated one of the district’s businessmen, 42-year-old Ahmad Al-Shammary.

And, of course, there is the economic slowdown caused by the novel coronavirus and the collapse in oil prices, which slashed the state’s monthly revenues.

With government coffers drained, Iraq’s 4 million public sector workers have seen wages delayed by weeks at a time.


China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains

Updated 18 January 2021

China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains

  • Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier
  • China’s quick recovery brought it closer to matching the US in economic output

BEIJING: China eked out 2.3 percent economic growth in 2020, likely becoming the only major economy to expand as shops and factories reopened relatively early from a shutdown to fight the coronavirus while the United States, Japan and Europe struggled with rising infections.
Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier as consumers returned to shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas, official data showed Monday. That was up from the previous quarter’s 4.9 percent and stronger than many forecasters expected.
In early 2020, activity contracted by 6.8 percent in the first quarter as the ruling Communist Party took the then-unprecedented step of shutting down most of its economy to fight the virus. The following quarter, China became the first major country to grow again with a 3.2 percent expansion after the party declared victory over the virus in March and allowed factories, shops and offices to reopen.
Restaurants are filling up while cinemas and retailers struggle to lure customers back. Crowds are thin at shopping malls, where guards check visitors for signs of the disease’s tell-tale fever.
Domestic tourism is reviving, though authorities have urged the public to stay home during the Lunar New Year holiday in February, normally the busiest travel season, in response to a spate of new infections in some Chinese cities.
Exports have been boosted by demand for Chinese-made masks and other medical goods.
The growing momentum “reflected improving private consumption expenditure as well as buoyant net exports,” said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit in a report. He said China is likely to be the only major economy to grow in 2020 while developed countries and most major emerging markets were in recession.
The economy “recovered steadily” and “living standards were ensured forcefully,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. It said the ruling party’s development goals were “accomplished better than expectation” but gave no details.
2020 was China’s weakest growth in decades and below 1990’s 3.9 percent following the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, which led to China’s international isolation.
Despite growth for the year, “it is too early to conclude that this is a full recovery,” said Iris Pang of ING in a report. “External demand has not yet fully recovered. This is a big hurdle.”
Exporters and high-tech manufacturers face uncertainty about how President-elect Joseph Biden will handle conflicts with Beijing over trade, technology and security. His predecessor, Donald Trump, hurt exporters by hiking tariffs on Chinese goods and manufacturers including telecom equipment giant Huawei by imposing curbs on access to US components and technology.
“We expect the newly elected US government will continue most of the current policies on China, at least for the first quarter,” Pang said.
The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect economic growth to rise further this year to above 8 percent.
China’s quick recovery brought it closer to matching the United States in economic output.
Total activity in 2020 was 102 trillion yuan ($15.6 trillion), according to the government. That is about 75 percent the size of the $20.8 trillion forecast by the IMF for the US economy, which is expected to shrink by 4.3 percent from 2019. The IMF estimates China will be about 90 percent of the size of the US economy by 2025, though with more than four times as many people average income will be lower.
Exports rose 3.6 percent last year despite the tariff war with Washington. Exporters took market share from foreign competitors that still faced anti-virus restrictions.
Retail spending contracted by 3.9 percent over 2019 but gained 4.6 percent in December over a year earlier as demand revived. Consumer spending recovered to above the previous year’s levels in the quarter ending in September.
Online sales of consumer goods rose 14.8 percent as millions of families who were ordered to stay home shifted to buying groceries and clothing on the Internet.
Factory output rose 2.8 percent over 2019. Activity accelerated toward the end of the year. Production rose 7.3 percent in December.
Despite travel controls imposed for some areas after new cases flared this month most of the country is unaffected.
Still, the government’s appeal to the public to avoid traditional Lunar New Year gatherings and travel might dent spending on tourism, gifts and restaurants.
Other activity might increase, however, if farms, factories and traders keep operating over the holiday, said Chaoping Zhu of JP Morgan Asset Management in a report.
“Unusually high growth rates in this quarter are likely to be seen,” said Zhu.