Iran’s Bikdeli says U.S. pressure on Turkey trade must be fought

File - Iranian women look at a jewelry shop display in Tehran, Iran, in 2010. (AFP/Atta Lenare)

ANKARA: Iran is seeking a bigger share in Turkey’s energy market as the two countries work toward preferential trade agreements, Iranian Ambassador to Turkey Ali Reza Bikdeli said in an interview in Ankara Monday.

Iran may increase exports of oil and natural gas to Turkey to $15 billion by 2015 from $8 billion, Bikdeli said. Trade volume in other goods could also rise to at least $11 billion from $7 billion by that date, once the two countries finalize a preferred customs agreement and ease rules on barter, he said.

“An agreement on preferred tariffs may increase trade volume as much as $4 billion within three years,” Bikdeli said in an interview at the Iranian Embassy in Ankara Monday. “We can increase trade volume to $35 billion in 2015 from $22 billion last year.”

The push for closer economic ties between the two neighbors comes after talks in Vienna between Iran and a group led by the U.S. and European Union were disrupted by a Dec. 12 U.S. Treasury Department decision to freeze assets and ban transactions of entities evading sanctions on Iran. The U.S. measures also target attempts to do business with the National Iranian Tanker Co., Iran’s primary shipper of crude oil.

Turkey and Iran should jointly resist international pressure from the U.S., Bikdeli said. An interim agreement between Iran and world powers in Geneva last month provided for a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. says is designed to produce nuclear weapons, in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions.

A preferred-tariffs agreement could be signed in January upon agreement of terms for some Iranian agricultural and Turkish industrial goods, Bikdeli said. The two countries are also planning to establish an industrial zone between the eastern Turkish city of Dogubayazit and the Iranian city of Bazergan, which would be supplied with “cheap energy,” he said.

State-run Turkish lender Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, “Stood by Iran during tough times” and “will naturally benefit from the favorable environment,” Bikdeli said. Halkbank, which handles payments for Iranian energy transactions, may also have an office in the planned industrial zone, he said.

The gold trade may diminish in importance as Iran and Turkey explore transaction methods such as barter and trade in local currencies, Bikdeli said.

Turkish exports to Iran slumped to $3.4 billion in the first nine months of this year, compared with $9.9 billion in the whole of 2012, as sanctions barred Tehran from accepting gold as payment for oil, according to data from Turkey’s statistics office last month. Precious metals accounted for 66 percent of direct exports to Iran in 2012, the data show.

Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan will visit Tehran on Jan. 15 and 16, he said last month, and the two countries will “lift the barrier put in front of us by sanctions,” according to the state-run Anatolia news agency on Nov. 25. “Turkey will be able to send export products, including gold and precious metals, to Iran again,” Caglayan said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2013, on page 5.




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