Economy, Business And Markets

Stonemasons Air Grievances at Iran Stone Expo 2016

Iran holds about 5 billion tons of ornamental stone reserves and produces close to 14 million tons per year.Iran holds about 5 billion tons of ornamental stone reserves and produces close to 14 million tons per year.

The Ninth International Mahallat Stone Expo, otherwise known as Iran Stone Expo 2016, opened in the city of Mahallat in Markazi Province on Wednesday.

More than 300 domestic and foreign companies from Turkey, Italy, Portugal, China, India, Afghanistan and Greece have been showcasing their latest technologies in stone processing, decorative and structural stone restoration and the manufacture of raw materials required for stone processing during the four-day expo.

Mahallat is Iran’s main stone mining hub, as it is home to over 70% of the country’s travertine stone reserves, about 700 stone mines and some 4,000 stone processing plants.

According to the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade, Iran holds about 5 billion tons of ornamental stone reserves and produces close to 14 million tons per year. Most of Iran’s decorative stones are said to be unmatched worldwide in terms of color, diversity and quality.

However, the sector is not doing well despite its 20-year-long record and access to sizable and quality stone reserves. Over 700 of Iran’s 1,950 stone mines went out of business during the previous Iranian year (March 2015-16), said Abolqasem Sharifi, the head of Stone Association of Iran, on the sidelines of the expo.

According to the official, domestic stone producers’ shortage of liquidity and modern manufacturing technologies, and lack of support for stone exporters have impeded the industry’s path to growth.

“This is while Turkish and Chinese stone producers are gradually taking over the Iranian market by flooding it with low-quality artificial stones, tiles and ceramics,” he added.

The industry expert called on the government to support the sector by providing local producers with export incentives and awards, cutting down on export duties and helping them gain access to new overseas markets.

Sharifi believes the industry should focus on boosting export even if it means selling unprocessed stones, as it tends to be more profitable than when the product is processed. He cited the example of Italy, one of the world’s top stone producers and exporters, which exports close to half of its unprocessed and unrefined stone output.

Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, who was also present at the expo, thinks otherwise, arguing that raw exports deprive the country of a great deal of potential added value. He called for the import of advanced production machinery to enable producers to embark on the manufacture of new products while boosting efficiency and reducing production waste.

Decorative stone exports were banned back in 2006 to put an end to the sale of unprocessed minerals. This dealt a serious blow to the sector’s standing in international markets. Although the measure was eventually revoked, experts believe the sector has yet to regain the markets it has lost.

Iran exported $60 million worth of ornamental stones during the first three months of the current Iranian year (started March 20).

The Stone Association of Iran intends to boost decorative stone exports to $2 billion per year by the end of 2020.