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French Delegation in Iran to Revive Ties
Economy, Domestic Economy

French Delegation in Iran to Revive Ties

A high-level French economic and political delegation was due to arrive in Tehran on Sunday to lay the groundwork for the first business contracts between France and Iran since a landmark nuclear deal was reached back in July.

France’s main business lobby group, MEDEF, has sent a delegation comprising more than 100 firms to Iran, including oil major Total, planemaker Airbus and car manufacturer Peugeot, Reuters reported.

The delegation includes most of France’s CAC 40 companies, but also small and medium enterprises from sectors as wide-ranging as agriculture, finance, luxury goods, pharmaceuticals, construction and transport.

Heading it up are Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and Trade Minister Matthias Fekl, who will open a new trade office in the Iranian capital on September 22.

France took one of the hardest lines of the six powers negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran.

But Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who traveled in the summer to Tehran to smooth over ties, has said he does not believe that will hurt its companies once international sanctions against the Islamic Republic are lifted. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is due to visit Paris in November.

Officials say Paris may initially secure deals in areas that were not specifically hit by European Union and US sanctions, most notably in the agriculture and livestock sectors, in which France has relatively little activity in Iran.

“We’re going to work on subjects in particular in agriculture and agribusiness,” Le Foll said before heading to Iran.

“We’ll see the potential and the possibilities for trade with Iran and that also means in the agriculture sector, most notably in meat and chicken.”

One official said the visit could lead to expressions of interest that could become agreements by November, although big contracts were impossible until the lifting of sanctions.

Sanctions lifting is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2016.

In the aftermath of the nuclear deal, some French executives have said that their firms have fallen behind their main European, American and Asian rivals.

French imports from Iran fell to just €62 million in 2013 from €1.77 billion in 2011. Exports fell to €494 million in 2013 from €1.66 billion in 2011, according to French Foreign Ministry estimates.

French companies were once heavily involved in the Iranian market, but European Union and in particular US sanctions adopted in 2011 scared them away.

BNP Paribas was fined almost $9 billion in 2014 for transactions violating US embargoes.

“The objective is to discover, learn and understand so that afterwards we can put projects together in the short to medium term,” French agricultural cooperative Axerea’s secretary-general, Stephane Michel, said.

The delegation is staying in Tehran until Tuesday before setting off to Mashhad for a one-day stay.

In an exclusive interview with Financial Tribune ahead of the visit, Minister Fekl said the French firms would enter into joint ventures and investment with their Iranian counterpart in key sectors encompassing agrifood, industry, infrastructure, transport, healthcare, energy, aviation, consumer goods and distribution.

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