Economy, Business And Markets

Swiss Businesses Rally to Weigh Iranian Opportunities

Swiss Businesses Rally to Weigh Iranian Opportunities  Swiss Businesses Rally to Weigh Iranian Opportunities

At an elegant hotel in downtown Zurich, Switzerland’s financial center, Swiss business executives gathered to learn about Iran. The event was a trade conference held late in August, organized by Switzerland’s Global Enterprise, a private association that is partly financed by the government to encourage international business.

At first, only a handful of people were expected to come. However, later, there were 350 business leaders mostly Swiss, but many Iranians too, Swissinfo reported.

“Iran has been talked about as a reemerging virgin market with huge potential. So we thought that let’s have a go,” says Jean-Luc Bühler, international business development manager at V-ZUG AG, Swiss household appliance manufacturer which had sent representatives to the conference.

Most of the talk was about risk; and that it’s worth taking. That’s the pitch to the Swiss.

Some say Iran’s bureaucracy could be a risk. However, there is also the issue of sanctions.

The Swiss government began imposing sanctions in 2007 in keeping with other western countries. Then last year it began lifting them in line with trade partners. That’s creating new opportunities.

“We do not think really that the risk for us will be big. Because we are working with local partners who we kind of know already from before,” said Bühler.

The Swiss government estimates that exports to Iran, more than $620 million last year, could double or even triple within a decade. That would still come to 1% of Swiss exports.

But over the longer haul, there is so much potential in a land 10 times the population of Switzerland. For instance, Iran has 55 million cellular phone subscribers, almost as many as France or Britain. Moreover, Iran has significant oil and gas reserves and a well-developed stock market where more than 500 companies trade.

Philippe Weltim, former Swiss ambassador to Iran, says Iran is a big, new market with “amazing stability” compared to other countries in the region, while Tehran “can guarantee that stability for whoever joins the market.”

Sharif Nezam-Mafi, managing director of Tehran office for Buehler Group, a Swiss technology provider in over 100 countries, and chairman of the Iran-Switzerland Chamber of Commerce, also has a finger on the pulse of change underway.

 “Iranian business environment is comprised of numerous elements and these elements you have to be very careful about. Iran’s potential is tremendous in the region. It’s a country of 80 million; it has one of the highest educated forces as far as employment is concerned. The workforce is very confident,” he said.

Switzerland and Iran have a long shared history. Swiss watchmakers settled in the Persian Empire in the 17th century and formal trade relations between the two countries began in 1873 with a friendship-and-trade treaty. There are now three formal economic treaties between the two sides.

“In the immediate timeframe, it is a great opportunity to enter Iran with high-tech products which are needed in the exploration, exploitation and refinement fields of gas and oil,” says Welti, adding that the biggest stumbling block to trade relations with Iran will have to be fixed: money transactions, a problem created by the US embargo on Iranian trade.