EghtesadOnline: When Iran signed its landmark deal with world powers in 2015, curbing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, many expected an investment gold rush.
But despite thousands of business delegates flooding into Tehran from all over Europe, Asia and beyond, big deals have been slow to emerge, reads an AFP report. The full text follows:
That makes Monday’s agreement with French energy giant Total, which will lead to a 20-year, $4.9 billion project to develop an offshore gas field in Iran, a potential breakthrough for the country.
Who Has Done Deals So Far?
Major investments have been few and far between, Financial Tribune reported.
French car firm PSA was quick off the block, signing a €400-million deal in June 2016 to build Peugeot vehicles with Iranian carmaker Iran Khodro, and a €300-million agreement in October to build Citroens with Iran’s SAIPA.
Hotel group Accor says it is working on 10 to 15 projects in Iran, hoping to capitalize on tourism boom since the nuclear deal.
The only other headline deals have been for aircraft, but here the money has been going in the other direction, such as the billions spent by Iran Air to buy 100 planes from Airbus and 80 from Boeing.
There has been a cavalcade of so-called preliminary or “exploratory” deals by major firms including Renault, Hyundai and Shell, but so far none has translated into actual investments.
A UN trade report published in June said total foreign direct investment into Iran last year was just $3.4 billion–way below the $4.7 billion it received in 2012 before sanctions hit, and not even in the same universe as the $50 billion target set by President Hassan Rouhani when he signed the nuclear deal.
What Is Holding Them Back?
Two things: US sanctions and Iran’s domestic economy.
Although many international sanctions were lifted under the nuclear deal, Washington maintained many others of its own on various allegations.
US lawmakers are in the process of tightening these sanctions, leaving many international firms worried they could face massive fines or be barred from working in the United States, and President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up the nuclear deal entirely.
Firms face major compliance headaches. But even without the threat of sanctions, Iran remains a risky investment prospect due to its pervasive red tape, a banking sector crippled by toxic debt and a fluctuating currency.
All this has scared off many investors, and crucially, the global banks needed to finance long-term deals.
What Comes Next?
All eyes are on Washington, where Trump’s administration is in the midst of a 90-day review on whether to stick by the nuclear deal.
The other signatories–Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia–are determined to keep the deal alive, which would make it hard for the US to enforce sanctions as it did in the past.
But the US has unparalleled powers to fine foreign firms. Many grimly recall the $8.9 billion fine meted out to French bank BNP Paribas just three years ago.
Iran hopes Monday’s Total deal will give confidence to other firms to move in and that an international bank will similarly take the plunge, triggering the long-awaited gold rush.
But for now, it remains a waiting game.