Domestic Economy

Unprecedented Number of Trade Missions Visit Iran

Unprecedented Number  of Trade Missions Visit Iran
Unprecedented Number  of Trade Missions Visit Iran

Overall, 2015 was bad for the global economy, with crude prices crashing to record lows and steel gagging on a glut.

However, the historic nuclear deal Iran clinched with the world powers on July 14 marked a major turnaround. The deal guaranteed an eventual lifting of sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear energy program.

The idea of the Iranian economy opening up after more than a decade of isolation has triggered a race among international players for a piece of action in what has been dubbed as "the last frontier market in the world."  

As many as 145 trade missions, including more than 3,760 officials, major and small business players and investors from 48 countries, visited Iran in 2015, IRNA cited figures provided by Trade Promotion Organization of Iran.

Below is a review of the most notable trade visits to Iran in the past few months:

> Germany

Among all the countries rushing to Iran, Germany had the most avid businesses. It sent 12 businesses to regain its pre-sanctions stature in Iran.

First came a 60-member high-ranking mission headed by Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economy and Energy Sigmar Gabriel, who traveled to Iran a few days after the nuclear deal was brokered.

Representatives from major German companies, such as Linde, Siemens, Mercedes, BASF, Volkswagen Group and GIZ, accompanied Gabriel to meet with Iranian officials and business owners to discuss potential areas of cooperation.

The delegation also attended a meeting with members of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture. The German vice chancellor also met with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian and Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mohamamd Reza Nematzadeh to pave the way for future trade visits.

Early October, the two countries held a joint trade forum in Tehran. The Iran-Germany Trade Forum was hosted by Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, and Iran-Germany Chamber of Commerce.

A 100-strong trade delegation from the European country, headed by the state of Lower Saxony’s Economy Minister Olaf Lies, who is also a member of the board of directors of Europe’s leading automaker Volkswagen, met with Iranian economic players in the forum and expressed the willingness of Lower Saxony-based companies for doing business with Iran.

German exports to Iran sank from €4.7 billion to €2.1 billion ($5.1 to 2.3 billion) between 2010 and 2013. According to German sources, around 80% of machinery and equipment in Iran are of German origin.

> Italy

An unprecedented number of forums were held jointly with other countries keen on expanding trade. Although as many as 43 trade conferences were held in Iran in 2015, the biggest such event was organized by Iranian businesses and those of Italy.

The Iran-Italy Business Forum was held in Tehran in late November. The forum was attended by Italian deputy minister for economic development, Carlo Calenda, who headed a 370-strong delegation, including representatives of 178 Italian companies, 20 associations and 12 banking groups.

The mission spent two days in Tehran and held 700 meetings with Iranian officials and firms to spur cooperation on different fronts and explore joint trade investment opportunities.

In 2006, Italy was Tehran’s number one European trade partner. About €7 billion in bilateral trade in 2011–before the sanctions were imposed–nosedived to slightly above €1 billion, according to Italian Minister of Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi.

Guidi, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni, headed a delegation of Italian business leaders to Iran in early August with the aim of “regaining Italy's pre-sanctions stature in the Iranian economy”, in Gentiloni's words.

Guidi's remarks in a meeting at ICCIMA headquarters in Tehran pointed to Rome’s determination to bolster trade ties with Tehran. She said her country is eager to develop “long-term mutual cooperation” with Iran instead of simply maintaining its presence in Iran’s consumer market.

> France

Like other Europeans, France, which is home to many brands that Iranians are familiar with, wasted little time in gaining a head-start in the race to win billions of dollars’ worth of business in Iran.

French giant carmakers such as Renault, Peugeot-Citroen and oil major Total used to be heavily involved in the Iranian market, but international embargos scared them away.

Iran’s exports to France fell to €62 million in 2013 from €1.77 billion in 2011. This is while French exports to Iran fell to €494 million in 2013 from €1.66 billion in 2011, according to French Foreign Ministry.

But Paris came prepared for the sanctions-free Iran to tap into the lucrative market. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the first top diplomat from the European country to visit Tehran in more than a decade, arrived in Tehran for a one-day visit two weeks after the Vienna nuclear deal was reached.

In addition to holding talks with President Hassan Rouhani and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, the French foreign minister also met with other top officials, including Nematzadeh, to prepare the ground for boosting bilateral trade. French trade delegations followed suit.

In September, the country’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism and French Nationals Abroad Matthias Fekl, accompanied by Minister of Agriculture and Agrifood and Government Spokesperson Stephane Le Foll headed a delegation of representatives of some 130 heavyweight companies, including Airbus, Total, Alstom, CMA-CGM, Sanofi and Vinci.

The two French ministers also inaugurated the "Business France" office in Tehran with the aim of reviving bilateral economic ties.

To all the trade trips to Iran, add Austrian President Heinz Fischer’s visit back in September. He was the first western head of state to visit Iran in more than a decade.

Accompanied by Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mittelehner, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and a 240-member economic, cultural and academic delegation, Fischer attended a forum organized by ICCIMA in Tehran.

A visit by British Minister of State for Trade and Investment Francis Anthony Aylmer Maude and representatives of 12 British energy, infrastructure, oil and gas giants back in November was also among the notable trade visits.

But those mentioned were Europeans alone, after which traders from Iraq, Japan, China, Lebanon and Oman converged on Tehran in the past few months.

Other countries that sent delegations to Iran over the past year included  Turkey, Serbia, Venezuela, South Africa, Kazakhstan, India, Russia, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Brazil, South Korea, Poland, Thailand, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Switzerland, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Tunisia, Belgium, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Croatia, Kenya, Guinea, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Armenia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Ukraine, Uganda and Spain.

With sanctions-relief expected as soon as February, Iranian decision-makers are hoping to translate foreign visits to business contracts that could help the country achieve high growth rates to make up for opportunities lost to sanctions.