Businesspersons from India and Iran, on Monday, held talks to boost trade between the two countries on a day U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived here, seeking Indian cooperation for sanctions intended to choke Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.
Tehran signalled its interest in purchasing an estimated Rs.25,000-30,000-crore worth of Indian goods every year by having a former Cabinet Minister to head the delegation. India and Iran have been forced to turn to this system because most financial institutions are wary of dealing with Tehran due to the threat of being locked out by western countries.
Speaking at a reception, organised for the 50-plus Iranian team, former Commerce Minister Yahya Ale Eshagh said Indo-Iranian trade was poised to grow. He also seemed to dismiss U.S. pressure on other countries to reduce their trade ties with Iran.
“Our trade problems will be resolved in spite of efforts of those who oppose us. Economics does its own work, trade does its own work and politicians do their own work,'' he said.
The Iran-India business meetings on Monday, sources in the delegation said, focussed on agro and allied products, pharmaceuticals, engineering, shipping, banking, petroleum products polymer, textile, as well as e-commerce.
Pharmaceuticals and agro products are free from pre-existing United Nations sanctions, which India already complies with. The United States is pushing India to cut back its imports of crude oil from Iran, and has warned that Indian banks could be cut off from its financial system in June unless significant progress is made. An industry official, who was part of the meetings, told The Hindu that the “business community does not want to let go of the opportunities in Iran. But, at the same time they are being cautious.” Indian exporters to Iran are also seeking clarity on a recent tightening of United States laws that target those helping Iran avoid the full effect of sanctions by barring them access to its banking system.
Indian industrialists acknowledged this dilemma — “if we don't utilise this opportunity, others will, because the second round of talks on the nuclear issue take place later this month and if they are successful, others will come in. But if we begin exporting to Iran and this situation worsens then who will help us if there are sanctions.''
The Iranian delegation is paying a reciprocal visit after an Indian team of businessmen visited Tehran in March to showcase their products. But in the subsequent follow-on meetings, both sides realised that it was not sustainable to depend on Indian exports alone which would be basically payment for Iranian oil that could not be sent through international financial channels. It was also necessary for Iranian businessmen to meet a wider cross section of Indian industry.
The business-to-business meeting during the day was facilitated by the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) while Friends of Iran held a reception for the visitors later in the day. Iranian businessmen will hold more meetings in the coming days, facilitated by industry chambers FICCI and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. Indian refiners have started cutting down crude oil imports from Iran. Though the government maintains that no diktat has been issued, insiders say the refiners have been asked to look at other producing nations. Iran was India's second-biggest crude oil supplier after Saudi Arabia, meeting about 12 per cent of the country's needs, but the position has been taken over by Iraq.
Keywords: India-Iran business ties