Italy leads race for Iranian market

06 August 2015

Rouhani’s trip to Italy will be Iranian leader’s first visit to an EU capital since taking office

  • Iran’s president to visit Italy within weeks
  • Italy has signed a cooperation agreement with Iran’s central bank
  • Italy is Iran’s largest trade partner

Italy has ratcheted up the stakes amid growing European competition for a share of the Iranian market in anticipation of the lifting of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic next year.

On 5 August, Italy’s foreign ministry said Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had agreed to visit Rome within weeks. It will be his first visit to an EU capital since he was elected head of state in 2013.

The previous day, a cooperation agreement was signed in Tehran by Italy’s export credit agency Sace and the Organisation for Investment, Economic & Technical Assistance of Iran (OIETAI) and the Central Bank in Tehran.

The OIETAI is a government agency mandated to promote investment in Iran.

The agreement with Sace is a significant development, analysts say. Finding ways to get paid for goods and services delivered to the Iranian market is one of the biggest challenges facing exporters. US banks and non-US banks with a presence in the US are subject to penalties for making or facilitating payments to and from Iranian counterparts.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Minister for Economic Development Federica Guidi met Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Minister of Economic Affairs & Finance Ali Tayyebnia on 4 August as part of a visit to Tehran by an Italian trade mission.

Tayyebnia said the value of bilateral trade with Italy is now about $1.5bn a year. He called for this figure to double.

Italy is Iran’s largest trade partner.

Italy is not a member of the Western team involved with negotiating the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) agreed in July, which involves the relaxation of sanctions on Iran in return for limitations on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme. Italy’s relations with Tehran have generally been more constructive than those between Iran and the US, the UK and France.

Zarif and Gentiloni met in Tehran in February in one of the most open attempts by a major European economy to prepare for a resumption of normal trade relations once sanctions are lifted.

EU countries are acting to prepare for the end of sanctions. Trade delegations headed by senior ministers from Germany and France have visited Tehran since the JCPOA was finalised on 14 July. UK government officials say Britain is doing initial work to support companies wishing to do business with Iran once sanctions are lifted.

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