Syria's economy is expected to contract significantly in 2012 due to 14 months of violence and sanctions, a top official at the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday.

"We do expect contraction in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) this year," the head of the IMF's Middle East, North Africa, Gulf and Central Asia Department, Masood Ahmed, told AFP, adding the drop was expected to be "significant".

The IMF is not providing figures on the Syrian economy due to lack of data amid the political uncertainty.

Ahmed cited unrest and EU sanctions on Syrian oil exports as main causes of deterioration in the economy.

"We do have limited information," he said, adding the IMF had not visited Syria since a year ago.

"The unrest and the conflict by themselves, apart from the impact from sanctions, have affected the economic activity, both through uncertainty and through trade and FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows," he added.

The EU in September banned crude oil imports from Syria. That was a severe blow to Damascus, which traditionally sells 95 percent of its crude exports to the European Union, providing one third of its hard currency earnings.

Switzerland also joined the oil ban, slapping an embargo on the import, sales and transport of Syrian oil and oil products.

Ahmed did not provide a figure on economic performance in 2011 but said there was probably an "economic stagnation," pointing out that sanctions were imposed towards the end of the year.

But he noted that many sectors of the economy, as well as government revenues, had been hit hard by sanctions and the violence, in which thousands of people have been killed since anti-regime protests broke out in March 2011.

Crude oil exports accounted for a quarter of budgetary revenues before sanctions, Ahmed pointed out.

The financial sector has also incurred heavy losses with a 40-percent drop in the stock market since the conflict broke out, while private sector deposits have dropped by a quarter, he said.

The Syrian currency has also come under severe pressure, with the official exchange rate falling 25 percent, while the currency has lost 45 percent of its value on the black market, he said.

Ahmed said the depth of economic deterioration "depends on the course of the conflict and how sanctions are implemented."

According to IMF data, the Syrian economy expanded by 3.4 percent in 2010 after growing 5.9 percent in 2009.

"Syria had a strong diversified economy," Ahmed said, adding that an end to the conflict "would provide the basis for a programme of reconstruction, stabilisation and a resumption of growth."

Agriculture contributes some 17 percent of Syria's GDP, compared to over 24 percent from industry, including oil, and around 54 percent from services.

[Syrians walk through a bazaar in the old city of Damascus via AFP / Louai Beshara]