Economy, Business And Markets

Latin America, Iran Forging Closer Ties

Latin America, Iran Forging Closer Ties
Latin America, Iran Forging Closer Ties

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrapped up a whirlwind tour of six Latin American countries this week, aiming to strengthen trade and cooperation with the region. Emerging from the US-led sanctions, the Middle East country is understandably keen to expand trade ties and cooperation with other countries, Xinhua wrote in an article.  

With limited opportunities to do that in its immediate vicinity, where countries are either allied with the United States or being battered by a US-led coalition, Iran is looking elsewhere.

Latin America’s progressive governments, which tend to establish independent foreign policies not dictated by the United States, seem like potential partners.

That description fits nearly all the countries on the itinerary of the Iranian foreign minister: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, with middle-of-the-road Chile being the exception.

Oil provides more ground for cooperation.

After meeting with Zarif, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his country will announce “consensus reached with Iran on ways to stabilize the oil market and strengthen OPEC.”

 Sizeable Delegation

Zarif traveled with a sizable business delegation of more than 100 public and private sector representatives from various industries, including oil and gas, land and maritime transport, automobiles and dairy foods, as well as financing agencies.

In Cuba, which has been battling US-imposed sanctions of its own for half a century, Iran has another potential partner.

Last Monday, the first Iran-Cuba economic forum was held in Havana to explore joint business opportunities.

“Both Cuba and Iran have reached a roadmap after years of sanctions which they should use to explore new economic opportunities and take advantage of each other’s capabilities,” said Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.

While the two countries have been politically close since Iran’s Islamic Revolution, there has been little chance for bilateral cooperation until now.

In an indication the two countries are serious about strengthening ties, the week prior to Zarif’s visit, Cuban Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas traveled to Tehran and met with President Hassan Rouhani and other senior officials.

In Nicaragua’s capital Managua, Zarif noted “political ties between the two countries are excellent and given that, I hope we can extend economic and trade ties between the two peoples. That’s why I am accompanied by a delegation from the state and private sectors.”

Iran is looking to “expand ties in all fields,” including industry, mining, agriculture, medicine, science and construction, where Nicaragua’s proposed canal project has piqued interest, said Zarif.

“In the construction sector, we already have the presence of Iranian friends and businesspeople who can work jointly on this grand project called the Interoceanic Canal … in the same vein, the energy sector is willing to collaborate with Nicaraguan friends in the construction of hydroelectric plants and other renewable energies,” he added.

Iran’s top diplomat met with representatives of ProNicaragua, the country’s export promotion agency and visited the finance ministry and the site of the Interoceanic Grand Canal project.

In Ecuador’s capital Quito, President Rafael Correa celebrated the lifting of sanctions on Iran, saying it opened opportunities to increase trade.

 Ecuador Trade Office in Tehran

A bilateral Iran-Ecuador trade committee will hold its first meeting in the last quarter of the year, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said, adding Ecuador is about to open a trade office in Tehran.

Ecuador exports a range of products to Iran, including bananas, wood, roses and fruit puree, and hopes to expand the list to include coffee, cocoa and tuna. During Zarif’s visit, Bolivia and Iran signed a science and technology cooperation agreement, with a focus on space research, Havana-based news agency Prensa Latina reported.

“The Bolivian Space Agency (ABE) and its Iranian counterpart seek to develop and expand space science and technology for peaceful purposes and bilateral benefit,” the agency said.

ABE director Ivan Zambrana and Iran’s Ambassador to La Paz Reza Tabatabaei Shafiei signed the memorandum of understanding. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is betting on technology and innovation to drive development in one of Latin America’s poorest nations.

Zarif’s visit to Latin America comes after his tour of West Africa in late June, during which he, along with a 70-strong politico-economic delegation met with top officials of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry and Mali in their respective countries to push for stronger relations. Agreements were signed in the fields of auto and customs affairs with the four West African countries during the six-day visit.