By Mahnaz Abdi

Iran’s European trade partners’ supportive steps to tackle U.S. sanctions

May 21, 2018

On May 8, Donald Trump officially pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear agreement, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, which was implemented in January 2016.

Trump administration has announced that it will re-impose some sanctions against Iran after a 90-day wind-down period (August 6, 2018) and some other sanctions after a 180-day wind-down period (November 4, 2018).

Moving to avoid the effects of soon-to-be-imposed U.S. sanctions, Iran’s trade partners are studying the ways to maintain their trade ties with Iran and protect their companies doing business with the country.

The European Union, Iran’s third top trade partner after China and the United Arab Emirates, whose trade with Iran tripled after the nuclear deal, rising from €7.7 billion in 2015 to €21 billion in 2017, is planning new measures to neutralize U.S. sanctions against Iran.  
In an attempt to find the ways for shielding European companies doing business with Iran, the EU leaders gathered in Bulgarian capital Sofia on May 16.

“Following the green light of the EU leaders at the informal meeting in Sofia, the European Commission has today taken steps to preserve the interests of European companies investing in Iran and demonstrate the EU's commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the Iran nuclear deal”, the European Commission Press Release Database (europa.eu) published on May 18.

The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: "In Sofia, we saw a show of European unity. As long as the Iranians respect their commitments, the EU will of course stick to the agreement of which it was an architect - an agreement that was unanimously ratified by the United Nations Security Council and which is essential for preserving peace in the region and the world. But the American sanctions will not be without effect. So we have the duty, the Commission and the European Union, to do what we can to protect our European businesses, especially SMEs."

The EU announced a package of measures on last Friday to counter U.S. sanctions on Iran. The plans unveiled by the European Commission include enabling its member states to make direct payments for oil to Iran’s central bank and the revival of a 1990s era so-called “blocking statute” to allow companies to ignore U.S. sanctions without fear of punishment in Europe, Financial Times reported.

The blocking statute — which will be based on a 1996 measure developed in response to U.S. sanctions on Iran, Libya and Cuba — will forbid EU companies from complying with the extraterritorial effects of U.S. sanctions, the commission said.

‘EU adheres to its Iran deal-related commitments’

European Union Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, who visited Tehran to present plans for continuing oil and gas purchases and protect European companies despite renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran, said that the EU adheres to its commitments under Iran’s nuclear deal.

He made the remarks during a joint press conference with Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian in Tehran on May 19.

The EU commissioner said: “In case the U.S. intensifies the sanctions, we will not leave Iran alone and will take strategies to remove barriers in the way of investment making in Iran.”

And in another joint press conference with Ali Akbar Salehi, director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Canete, the first Western official to visit Iran since the U.S. decision, said: "For sure there are clear difficulties with the sanctions. We will have to ask for waivers, for carve outs for the companies that make investments”.

France wants EU to toughen its stance

France, whose trade with Iran increased significantly after the nuclear deal, wants EU to toughen its stance to protect European companies against any U.S. sanctions, according to French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

On May 20, the minister said France is looking to see if the European Union could compensate European companies that might be facing sanctions by the United States for doing business with Iran, Reuters reported.

Le Maire referred to EU rules going back to 1996 which he said could allow the EU to intervene in this manner to protect European companies against any U.S. sanctions, adding that France wanted the EU to toughen its stance in this area.

“Are we going to allow the United States to be the economic policeman of the world? The answer is no,” he told C News TV and Europe 1 radio.

Also on May 17, French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe would try to protect its companies doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions.

Trade between Iran and France reached $3.18 billion during January-October 2017, showing 112 percent rise compared to the same period of time in 2016. The annual trade between the two countries was near $2 billion in 2016 and it is expected to reach $4.8 billion in 2018, according to the Chairman of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA) Gholam-Hossein Shafe’i.

‘America First now means America Alone’

“America First now increasingly means America Alone,” Eric Schweitzer, the president of Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), told the RND group of newspapers, referring to the U.S. exiting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

In January Trump said he would always promote “America First”, as he expected other world leaders to do on behalf of their own countries, but added: “America First does not mean America alone. When the United States grows so does the world.”

Schweitzer called for the EU to take a tough line in the trade dispute with the United States, saying while it was important to remain in dialogue over difficult conflicts, “we’re moving in the wrong direction if we automatically react to new unreasonable demands with concessions.”

Nonetheless, a DIHK survey published earlier this month showed a record number of German companies believe economies in foreign markets where they do business will improve despite rising political and trade risks, Reuters reported on May 20.

Since U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has received the same protecting messages from other European partners.

In an Iran-Bulgaria Business Forum, which was held in Tehran on May 14, Bulgarian Minister of Economy Emil Karanikolov said his country and Europe are seriously determined to continue their economic cooperation with Iran.

“Iran is a strategic partner for the European Union and Bulgaria, which holds the presidency of the European Union Council. Bulgaria is taking necessary measures to expand economic ties with Iran,” the visiting minister said in a meeting with Iranian Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Masoud Karbasian.

Also, Slovenian Ambassador in Tehran Kristina Radej has told Tasnim news agency in a Monday interview that her country and EU are exploring the ways to save their business with Iran.

“We are seeking a way to adapt ourselves to this condition and protect our companies’ activities in Iran”, she noted.

Green light from other partners

Iran has also got green light from other countries rather than EU members, for example from its neighbor Turkey which is one of the major trade partners of Iran. Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci has said that Turkey has no plans to change its trading relationship with Iran.

Making the remarks in an interview with Turkish television channel CNN Turk the same day of Trump’s decision on exiting the nuclear deal, the official said: "Iran is our neighbor. It is a very important trading partner."

Zeybekci made the remarks pointing out the importance of Iran to Turkey's energy supply and the $20 billion trade balance between the two countries, Platts reported.

U.S. sanctions will definitely affect Iran’s economic relations, but receiving all these supportive approaches from its major trade partners the Islamic Republic is strongly determined to tackle all threats.

The country’s determination is strengthened by its experiences of the past sanctions and this claim is supported by many officials as Nasrollah Sardashti, the managing director of National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) that transports Iranian crude, has said: “We have an

experience of five-year activity under the sanctions and now relying on our fruitful experiences of those years we have made necessary planning for the possible re-imposition of the sanctions and are ready to operate under any condition.”

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