EghtesadOnline: Ahead of a trip by a private sector delegation to Switzerland, the head of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture met with the newly-appointed ambassador of the Central European nation to Iran to discuss ways of strengthening bilateral ties, mainly by resolving banking issues inside and outside Iran.
TCCIM chief, Masoud Khansari, said that in addition to furthering its own diplomatic affairs with Iran, the Swiss Embassy is tasked with preserving other nations' interests and therefore plays a significant role in this area.
"Switzerland has always acted as a facilitator in international affairs and played a significant role with regard to JCPOA [Iran's nuclear deal]," he was also quoted as saying by the official news portal of the chamber.
In the absence of Iran-US diplomatic and consular relations, the Swiss government has acted as a protector of US interests in Iran since May 1980 through its embassy in Tehran, Financial Tribune reported.
As noted by Khansari, a commercial delegation with TCCIM representing more than 30 private sector businesses will soon travel to Geneva for a three-day visit to confer with their Swiss counterparts.
The official will deliver a keynote speech at a conference that is to be held in Zurich with the aim of attracting foreign finance for Iran.
"I sincerely hope that these meetings and gatherings will serve as a notable step in facilitating bilateral ties and developing trade deals between the private sectors of both countries," he said.
The private sector leader then turned his attention to domestic issues and while referring to advances in recent years such as a drastic reduction in inflation rate and restoration of economic stability, conceding that there are structural issues, especially in the banking sector, that require immediate and serious attention.
"The Central Bank of Iran has taken steps [toward implementing reforms] but more work is needed to make the structure of the banking system conform to international standards," he said.
The administration and CBI are planning a major overhaul in the banking system in the immediate future through their twin Banking Reform Bill and Central Bank Bill that are currently being reviewed in the parliament.
According to Khansari, a number of remaining sanctions coupled with the extreme cautious approach of major European banks have impeded the development of banking ties, "which we hope would be eased with the help of ambassadors acting as the official representatives of other nations in Iran".
As a major player in the international banking sector, especially in Europe, the TCCIM head called on Switzerland to help remove these hurdles and referred to recent deals signed with Austria's Oberbank and Denmark's Danske Bank worth a total of €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) as positive signs.
He also pointed to low Iran-Switzerland trade levels as a result of sanctions, but said prospects are rising since the volume of trade has increased from €7.7 billion ($9 billion) in 2015 to €11.5 billion ($13.5 billion) in the first seven months of 2017 while Iran is ready to notch it up further.
According to Khansari, TCCIM has recently established an investment services bureau and held meetings with representatives of credible international institutions such as the Canadian Fraser Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Call for Image Change
Markus Leitner, the Swiss ambassador, said during the meeting that Tehran needs to change the image that is currently being projected in European nations, adding that TCCIM can act as a good liaison between the two countries.
"At present, Swiss businessmen only see the incomplete and non-transparent image presented in the European media so entities such as TCCIM need to send trade delegations and hold events there to present Swiss traders with a clear picture of all the opportunities and high capacities of the Iranian economy," he added.
According to the ambassador, Iran is a strong country and must endeavor to familiarize foreign investors with its markets and engage them.
Leitner expressed support for increased bilateral ties because developed relations would create a win-win scenario that will benefit both countries.
In conclusion, Khansari referred to Leitner's remarks and said Iran does not expect a sudden jump in bilateral ties, "but the reality is that investment revenue is currently higher in Iran than in other regional countries, which has created a good climate for the activities of Swiss companies in Iran".