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Media Watch | An Insider's View: Iran Ready to Do Business with the West

24 Jun 2012 07:20Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

AsadollahAsgaroladi.jpg7:20 a.m. IRDT, 4 Tir/June 24 As Iranian and Western diplomats wrestle over Iran's nuclear program, the Iranian business community still hopes for the lifting of economic sanctions. The latest edition of Mehrnameh, a monthly magazine devoted to Iranian political and economic issues, features a revealing interview with Asadollah Asgaroladi, an influential businessman with close ties to the political establishment. The head of both the Iran-China and Iran-Russia chambers of commerce, Asgaroladi hails from a formerly Jewish clan of bazaaris who converted to Islam over a century ago; his older brother, Habibollah, served as commerce minister in the 1980s. Dealing in the export and import of items such as pistachios, fruit, caviar, and sugar, Asgaroladi's fortune was estimated at $400 million in 2003. Following are some highlights of the interview, translated from the original Farsi.

On Iranian-Chinese commercial ties

Let me begin commenting on our relationship with China by saying that we chose China because of the way America treated us. We had to choose them, otherwise given the sanctions and Western governments' policies we would have lost everything. Twenty years ago the volume of our trade with China was something around US$200 million. However, where the American and Western governments mistreated us, the Chinese and the Russians smiled on us, the way India is smiling now. We had to smile back because the Europeans and the Americans were not smiling! Iran's reserves in the West amounted close to $200 billion; in France alone, we had close to $50 billion. The West lost all of this because it followed an Israeli approach to Iran. We had no other choice. Today our trade with China in 2011 has reached $46 billion.

Sanctions have hurt Iranian-Chinese relations, but the Chinese continue to work with us. There are five Chinese banks who work with Iran, whose names I am not going to reveal. How else we could transfer $45-50 billion a year between Iran and China? Our transactions are going to supersede $50 billion in 2012. This would not be possible without a banking infrastructure.

Because of sanctions, the cost of domestic production has increased. Some products now cost an Iranian manufacturer twice what they cost a Chinese manufacturer. We simply cannot be competitive. Again we have to import, because we cannot produce at competitive prices.

We have to buy from China because China buys Iranian oil. Any country buying our oil would expect us to import its products. On several occasions, the Chinese have bought things we need for us. For example, we buy grain from America and Kazakhstan -- China did the financial transactions.

On poverty

It is true that inflation is hurting our people. Still there is no shortage. True, we have high prices but we have lower poverty in Iran. No one sleeps hungry in Iran. The number of homeless in Tehran is way lower than the number of homeless people in a city like London. [Editor's note: For other perspectives on this issue, see Iran's Cities a Sea of Poverty and Urban Poverty in Iran: A Sea or a Mirage?]

Sanctions have never stopped the process of wealth accumulation in Iran. In the year of the Revolution [1979], 60 percent of Iranians were tenants; now 80 percent are homeowners.

On commercial ties with the United States and the West

I have tried several times to reach an agreement with American chambers of commerce in New York City and Washington, D.C. Each time the Iranian side faced an iron wall. The American side says they like the idea, but they do not take any practical steps.

The Western countries import several Iranian products. My own pistachios are being sold on the streets of Tel Aviv. I have not sold my produce to Israel directly; they import it via third parties in Cyprus, Baghdad, and Turkey.

The West lost a market of 75 million Iranians, and their surrounding markets. In Afghanistan, in Iraq, Iranian businesses are strong; this means a population of 350 million.

Iranian people like Western products. Many of our factories are constructed by the French, Italians, Germans, and British. We all like to buy Western products, but because of present conditions we cannot. The United Kingdom could sell us machinery directly instead of selling it through the Chinese and paying them a 3 to 4 percent commission.

We already have told the Chinese not to have any doubt -- the day sanctions against Iran are lifted, our cushy relationship will be over. We have 200 years of commercial history with the West, while we have only 25 years of economic ties with China. The Iranian taste and temperament is close to that of the Western countries. The Chinese can be difficult to deal with, while the Westerners are easy to work with. I do not believe the sanctions will be permanent; one day they have to be lifted. However, the side that resists longer will emerge as the victor.

I hope and wish to see the day when the Iran-U.S. Chamber of Commerce is established. I have been working for the past ten years to establish such a chamber of commerce.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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