Economy, Domestic Economy

Italy to Offer Financing for Investment in Iran

Italy to Offer Financing for Investment in IranItaly to Offer Financing for Investment in Iran

The Italian government is planning to offer up to €8 billion ($8.71 billion) in financing for companies to invest in Iran, as they expect Italian exports to Iran to quadruple in two years.

Under the terms of the agreement announced on Saturday, the United Nations lifted its sanctions on Iran and the European Union and the US lifted their nuclear-related measures.

US President Barack Obama immediately issued an executive order revoking earlier orders that imposed nuclear sanctions on Iran, and the names of hundreds of people and companies removed from US blacklists were released in a single list, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

Italy—which had strong ties with Iran before the sanctions—is eager to benefit from potential business opportunities arising. The government has paved the way to revamp trade relations in the last months and is working to help Italians get closer to investors and prospective clients in Iran.

Vice Minister for the Economic Development Carlo Calenda  visited Iran this past November to help nearly 400 Italian firms meet Iranian prospective counterparts. He said he would go back every few months to check on the progress made by Italy’s corporate world.

“We see all the elements lined up to reach a target of €4 billion in exports with Iran by 2017,” Calenda said in an interview Monday. He added that at the moment, exports are at €1 billion.

€8b in Financing

Calenda said export credit company SACE—controlled by state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti–is getting ready to make available up to €8 billion in financing for Italian firms that want to have business in Iran. He also said the Bank of Italy is in talks to open the branch of an Iranian bank in Italy to ease financial transactions. He expects an agreement to come by March.

According to SACE, Italy’s loss from the sanctions has been “significant”, noting that trade exchange between the two countries had dropped to €1.6 billion in 2014 from €7.2 billion in 2011, the year in which sanctions were made harsher.

Exports of machinery alone, which in 2014 accounted for 58% of the total, fell 29% over the 2011 to 2014 period, SACE said.

Italy’s corporate world has not been caught by surprise with the sanction relief process. Several companies with strong ties to Iran before the sanctions did not leave the country, although business slowed down significantly.

Some have kept a small presence in the country, which they are looking to expand now. Some are refreshing their old contacts.

For instance, Fadis, a textile machinery company, tried to keep its old clients over the sanction years by selling them spare parts when needed. But now that local carpet makers will have the chance to increase production and possibly turnover, they hope they will need up-to-date machinery.

Business Opportunities

“Iran has old petrochemical plants,” said Fabrizio Di Amato, president of Maire Tecnimont—a company that designs and builds oil and gas processing and petrochemical plants—as he added that the firm will be a candidate to upgrade or complete existing plants.

Di Amato said his company could establish plants to produce fertilizers in the country, for example, using cheap Iranian gas and exporting the output to India, an important buyer of fertilizers.

"Transportation costs would lower significantly if they are made in Iran rather than in farther away countries," he said.

Oil giant Eni SpA, has been visiting Iran in recent months to rekindle ties, too.

“No doubts Iran is interesting [as an investment opportunity],” Eni’s chief executive, Claudio Descalzi, said in a television interview on Sunday.

“I am happy that Iran is returning [to energy markets] … it means Europe has a more diversified supply for its energy.”

The Italian government’s next mission to Iran is slated for February, where Maire Tecnimont and other firms will meet local businesses, government representatives and potential investors.

“What we found in Iran when we went on a mission in November was a strong entrepreneurial class,” Calenda said. “They know how to make business.”

Pietro Piccinetti, the chief executive of Pordenone Fiere, which organizes trade events for Italian small- and medium-sized businesses, said last week that he also brought about 60 companies in the furniture business to Tehran so that they could meet potential customers.

Yet doubts remain about how quick such opportunities will become real.

In an interview on Friday, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned that, while the Iranian economy offers opportunity, business may not yet rush to invest there quite yet.

“The Iranian economy is in decent shape. It has had to differentiate more than other countries in the region over the years due to the sanctions,” he said. “The interest (from business) is enormous in several sectors. Although in the energy sector, because of (low) oil prices, the break-even point on oil projects is so low that multinationals won’t probably be rushing there quite yet.”