Iranian businesses get creative to limit effect of sanctions

Cars are among Iran’s key exports. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: International sanctions have forced Iran’s industrial and trade sectors to change the way they do business, according to exhibitors taking part in the “Made in Iran” expo which kicked off in Beirut Wednesday.

The five-day BIEL exhibition is seeing participation from some 70 Iranian companies involved in sectors ranging from plantations of pistachios and saffron to automobiles and advanced medical equipment.

Speaking at his company’s pavilion, which features two Renault-designed but Iranian-made sedans, Mansour Abtahi, an overseas marketing manager at Saipa automobile, said Iran’s vehicle industry had grown in spite of sanctions.

“Sanctions are not ineffective. However, we intelligently look for ways to reduce their effects,” he said. Restrictions on financial transactions for trade have some effects on exports to some countries, Abtahi added.

Saipa, he said, had managed to build assembly plants in countries such as Venezuela, Syria, Iraq and Senegal. In addition to Renault, the company has partnered with leading car manufacturers including Kia, Nissan and Volvo, Abtahi added.

“None of these international players have shown any intention to break up the partnerships. In fact, together we look for ways to minimize the effect of sanctions on the sector,” he said.

In addition to thousands of cars produced in the four countries, Abtahi said that over the past five years, the Iranian car manufacturer had exported more than 120,000 cars to Syria and Iraq.

“We also have exports to international markets including Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Venezuela, Pakistan, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Azerbaijan,” he said.

Key markets being mulled by Saipa are the Commonwealth of Independent States, where Iran enjoys fewer restrictions on trade.

“In some cases, we opt to purchase goods we need or industrial components in return for vehicles we sell abroad,” Abtahi said. “In that way we limit financial transactions to a minimum.”

According to Abtahi, Saipa has been preparing to enter the Lebanese market and would soon select a local distributor and post-sale service provider.

Some exhibitors, however downplayed the impact of sanctions on business. A sales manager at Shazand Petrochemical Corporation, who did not wish to be identified, said his company’s exports had continued to rise despite the tightening of sanctions on Iran.

Shazand, which produces various petrochemical products including plastic raw materials, chemicals and synthetic rubber, has also managed to export products to global markets.

“Our major export markets are in China, Russia and India,” he said. “In fact we have recently started to export to various European countries.”

Mahmoud Saderi from Rafsanjan Pistachio Producers Cooperative, a 75,000-member co-op, said sanctions had had minimal impact on pistachios, Iran’s second-biggest export item.

In addition to its major market in China, RPCC has managed to expand into the European market building a packaging plant in Hamburg, Germany, Saderi said. “We export over 50,000 tons of pistachios to over 90 countries across the world,” he added.

Nazeri, CEO of Raymand High Tech Development Corporation, also denied that sanctions had a significant effect on their business.

Raymand, which is involved in advanced medical equipment, IT and nanotechnology, is able to retain significant competitiveness given high quality and affordable prices.

“In our field, price and quality speak louder than sanctions,” he said.

“But we have to work hard and it will take time to create a brand and international reputation in the high-tech business,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2012, on page 5.




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