Business And Markets

Business Leaders at London Forum

Business  Leaders  at London Forum
Business  Leaders  at London Forum

Despite Western sanctions against Iran, world businesses seem to be interested in the Iranian market as a number of key players and former officials are preparing to attend an unprecedented business conference in London on Oct. 15-16 focusing on Iran.

The Europe-Iran Forum brings together global law firms (Dentons Europe), business consultancies (FTI), marketing firms (WPP), auctioneers (Sotheby’s) and telecom providers (MTN), among many others, to prepare and evaluate the post-sanctions trade framework and investment opportunities in Iran.

Former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine and former British foreign secretary Jack Straw are attending the event, according to the forum's brochure.

The event also complies with US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) regulations, the brochure says. The Middle East Bank is on OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals, which according to the US Treasury “includes individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries.”

The brochure carries a blessing from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian. “I hope that this forum presents information and opportunities for active international investors and facilitates competitive investments in various sectors of the Iranian economy,” Nahavandian writes. “I would like to wish you further success with your honorable endeavors for Iran.”

The forum’s “Premier Sponsor” is Avarya Capital Ltd., aka ACL. Amir Ali Amiri is ACL’s Iranian-Swiss founding partner. The Harvard Business School alumnus said in a telephone interview with The Wall Street Journal that he became interested in the forum that seeks to transform western businesses’ perceptions about the value and risks associated with investing in Iran.

Mohammad Reza Ansari, chairman of Kayson Co., an engineering and construction firm with projects in Central Asia, Belarus and Venezuela is also attending the event.

Matt Baker, an associate at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tells the Journal, “This is an effort to further undermine Western leverage vis-à-vis Iran at a critical time in the nuclear negotiations by encouraging Western investors to establish valuable business contacts and create the basis for their return to the Iranian market.”

However, a US Treasury spokesperson said in a written statement on the forum, “We are aware it is happening but will not be attending.”

The conference, the largest gathering of Iranian commercial officials in London for years, aims to attract capital for Iran's economy.

With a population of close to 80 million and more of its young people going into higher education, Iran wants to diversify beyond oil to everything from technology to pharmaceuticals.

Last year, Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei issued a series of guidelines called "economic resistance" urging the Rouhani administration to rely less on oil revenues in future plans. The strategy was also an attempt to thwart the effects of Western sanctions.

Iran has more than $100 billion in foreign exchange assets amassed around the world, but it has not been able to touch them due to a ban imposed by the US and the EU on transactions with Iranian banks since 2012.

Despite years of external pressure, Iran's economy is still floating. The IMF forecasts the economy will grow 1.5 percent in the current fiscal year, rising to 2.2 percent in 2015. This marks a rebound from a 1.9 percent decline in 2013.

Officials in Tehran forecast a 3 percent growth by March 20 for the economy, while inflation has been falling slightly more than 20 percent from around 40 percent last year. President Hassan Rouhani has vowed to keep the growth rate and even accelerate it in the coming years.

To that end, the president's negotiation team has been deeply involved in tense nuclear talks with the six world powers known as the P5+1 to resolve a decade-long nuclear dispute with the US and its European allies. The two sides have already reached an agreement which has eased sanctions, but they have put the November 24 deadline to achieve a permanent deal.

As negotiations continue, private sectors in Iran and Europe have taken this opportunity in London to pave the ground for a boom in investment and trade as soon as the sanctions are removed.