By: Haniyeh Sadat Jafariyeh

FDI comes into question

May 31, 2016

In their recent speeches, President Hassan Rouhani and his administration’s spokesman Mohammad-Baqer Nobakht have reportedly put the volume of attracted foreign direct investment (FDI), at more than $3.41 billion in the four-month period after the implementation of nuclear agreement with world powers in mid-January.

The announced figure, however, has triggered a debate between critics, who cast doubt on its authenticity. They argue that in accordance with the Islamic Republic’s regulations and under ordinary conditions, from obtaining preliminary investment permits to acquiring final exploitation licenses would take a foreign investor between five to 10 years and the procedure could have not be carried out during the four intended months as of the past January. Therefore, the data released by the incumbent administration, as critics suppose, should stand for the value of the issued permits for foreign investments planned to be attracted in the near future or else, it should account for those foreign investments the preparatory steps of which were basically taken before the nuclear agreement but have borne fruit in post-sanction time.
As the Organization for Investment Economic and Technical Assistance of Iran (OIETAI) - the investment authority of the country - clarified in its official statement put out on May 18, the announced $3.41 billion by the administration represents the value of foreign investment permits granted in the said time and the government is currently in the course of making relevant contracts operational. The statement admitted that injecting the attracted foreign investments to domestic projects takes between three to five years but not four months.
Whether the published figure stands for FDI as of the implementation of the nuclear agreement or it represents the value of investment permits issued by the government, the share of the private sector from the said $2.41 billion is of question. 
As Nobakht announced on May 3, in the first three months after the initial lifting of sanctions, eight presidents, five prime ministers, three parliament speakers, and 14 foreign ministers have accompanied 16 trade delegations to Iran. However, the private sector activists and officials repeatedly lament their near-to-zero stake of the attracted investments in post-sanction time and admit that foreign investments are mainly absorbed by state-run companies or semi-governmental ones.
Farhad Fozouni, a member of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (TCCIMA) said on May 14 that a majority of the investments are made by the cooperation of governmental and semi-governmental companies and the private sector does not play a great role in this story. “No cooperation agreement has been endorsed with the private sector and all the visiting trade delegations were just investigating Iran’s domestic market as well as trade conditions with Iranians,” Masoud Daneshmand, the secretary general of the privately-owned Iran Economy House said, Jam-e-Jam daily wrote on May 20. “About 50 MOUs have been signed with the private sector, none of which have been so far turned into final agreements,” Reza Padidar, another TCCIMA member said. “Foreign investors find state-run organizations more reliable than the private sector and the issue has had a high negative impact on the volume of their interactions with us,” he added. The vice chairman of Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce, Majid-Reza Hariri, also told the Jam-e-Jam daily that “A majority of companies to which foreigners pay attention are governmental and for that the share of private sector in the recent foreign investments is almost zero.” Also, in an interview with YJC news agency on May 14, another TCCIMA member Mehdi Qazipour criticized that on the way to facilitate attraction of foreign investments, neither the administration nor the Central Bank of Iran provides the private sector with safety nets, such as promoting deregulation to increase competition in domestic business environment, modifying value-added tax rates, and offering bank guarantees. 
To get a clear view over the issue, the Tehran Times conducted a phone interview with Pedram Soltani, vice president of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA) on May 25. He primarily illuminated that the announced $3.41 billion should definitely represent the value of the permits issued by OIETAI and does not stand for the volume of FDI in the said time span. Being questioned about the share of private sector in attracted foreign investment, Soltani described that in his view, a majority of the investment permits belongs either to the semi-governmental or the private sector, although no official data has been released in this regard. As he described, “most of the contracts made by the government are for the purchase or finance, but not for absorbing foreign investment.” In addition, he asserted that the private sector has made some agreements with foreign partners in this regard, the detail of which would presently remain confidential due to some reasons. 
The ICCIMA vice president was also asked about the present-day economic situation of Iran and its chance of attracting foreign investors. As he elaborated, for every investment, there is a risk-return tradeoff, which is the direct correlation between the expected return and the risk of an investment. “Although under the present circumstances the risks of making investments in specific sectors are estimated to be high,” he said, “the rate of return in Iran is certainly higher than those of the risks.” He underscored that the assessed level of risk in Iran is high since the international institutes and research centers in charge of calculating the investment risks are adopting models and methods which do not fit the present conditions of the Islamic Republic, which has experienced a turning point in its economic relations with the world after the withdrawal of the financial embargo. “Their obtained results mostly include a level of standard deviation for making investment decisions.” “While the investment risk in Iran is going through a rapid downward trend and the country is predicted to improve a bright economic outlook in the long run and as expected, the upcoming four or five years would be a golden era.” Consequently, those foreigners who take the premier steps in making agreements with Iran, would have a bigger loaf from the untapped lucrative market, he underscored.
Following the JCPOA implementation, President Rouhani’s administration has created great opportunities and offered special incentives to attract foreign investors. As reported, foreign applicants for investing in Iran are presently capable of making investments in projects up to 100 percent in various sectors, including production, transportation, telecommunication, services, power, construction and health, and they can also possess land pieces here. In addition, the government will issue three-year residential certificates for foreign managers, experts, and their families to stay in the country.
Time is now ripe for foreigners to change their attitude toward Iran on the way to find a realistic view over the potential investment projects in the Islamic Republic, specifically after the withdrawal of the financial embargo which is meant to usher in an era of economic expansion.


 

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