Tehran has applied for WTO membership, although its entry into the trade body is likely to be dependent on resolution of the nuclear issue.

Under Iran’s fourth five-year development plan, which came into effect last year, the government intends to relinquish its stakes in most major companies. However, the pace of privatisation has slowed considerably in the past two years, which analysts blame on a sluggish stock market and the new administration’s reluctance to engage with the private sector and foreign investors.

Reaffirming a late 2004 decision to redefine constitutional bars on investment in several major sectors, Khamenei said that downstream oil and gas industries would be open to privatisation. Other sectors newly opened to private investors include banking, insurance, mining and power. However, upstream hydrocarbons will remain the preserve of state subsidiaries.