Economy, Business And Markets

Swiss Team to Explore “Economic Potential”

Swiss Team to Explore “Economic Potential”Swiss Team to Explore “Economic Potential”

No Swiss delegations have visited Iran over the past eight years, but at least six of them are set to explore the Iranian economic and political atmosphere by the end of June, a Swiss diplomat said.

With sanctions appearing to fade in the coming months, European businesses are showing interest in the untapped 80-million market. External pressure, especially a SWIFT ban, has kept foreign investors away from Iran's market to a large extent.

An economic delegation from Switzerland is due to arrive in Tehran on April 26 to "explore the potential of the Iranian economy," Stephane Ray, Switzerland's deputy head of mission to Tehran told the Financial Tribune on the sidelines of a gathering held in Iran's Chamber of Commerce late Sunday.

The delegation will consist of four top Swiss officials as well as representatives of 15 to 20 companies at CEO and vice-president level.

Members from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Swiss federal government's center of expertise for all core issues relating to economic policy, will also be present.

SECO's aim is to ensure sustainable economic growth by putting in place the necessary regulatory and economic policy conditions.

Ray expressed hope that diplomacy can help nuclear negotiators, from both sides, find a resolution to the 12-year nuclear dispute. "As a diplomat I have to be optimistic that the situation will get better," he said.

Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1, have been negotiating for 18 months to hammer out a deal by the self-imposed June 30 deadline. The agreement, if reached, will lead to the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions in exchange for Iran limiting part of its nuclear power program.

"I can feel that they (Swiss companies) are expecting something to happen," the diplomat said, referring to a possible termination of sanctions. "This is why they are coming. You may see we haven’t had a commercial delegation in Tehran for eight years, though individual businessmen have visited Iran."

About 30 Swiss companies operate in Iran, most of which have been physically present even when external pressure intensified in recent years, Ray said, explaining that "of course, the Swiss companies have had same problems as other European companies have." The SWIFT ban is one of them, he said when asked to name a few of those problems. "The speed of investment depends on the speed Iran can be integrated into the SWIFT system," he said.

Sanctions have cut off two dozen Iranian banks from the SWIFT payments transfer system as part of western pressure to prevent Tehran from pursuing its nuclear program.

Out of the six delegations expected to visit in the coming months, only the first one is commercial, Ray explained. The rest are political delegations, one of which consists of members of the Swiss Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, he added.

Ray was among dozens of foreign diplomats who attended the friendly gathering hosted by the Iran's Chamber of Commerce. Among those participating was a diplomat from the French Embassy who refused to comment on sanctions or the possible nuclear deal for "political restrictions" when asked to do so by Financial Tribune.

France, along with Germany and the UK, has been a major player in the negotiation effort. The US, Russia and China are other nations dealing with Iran.

Kamyar Azeri, general director of Iran-France chamber, said all French businesses would be more than happy if sanctions are lifted, noting that "a great potential" is there in the Iranian market awaiting a breakthrough in the ongoing nuclear talks.

Azeri said despite restrictions, ten French companies have been active in Iran. "The cheese group Bel is one of them, for instance, having been operating for a decade in our market, creating dozens of jobs."

The businessman said his chamber has so far managed to find French partners for the Iranian side in auto, construction and power sectors. He called on Iranian businessmen to provide "incentives" for the foreign side to persuade them to transfer technology to Iran. "In exchange, the foreign side should be committed to help the Iranian partner export products to a third market, preferably a regional one."

Some European companies which have been in contact with Iranians in the past decade refuse to transfer technology to the Iranian side. Azeri said Iranians must persuade them that it will be a win-win situation as Iran could turn into a strategic economic partner for them in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Gholam Hossein Shafei, the chamber's head, and all veteran businessmen from the chamber were present at the event.