Vice President of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce Mohammad Amirzadeh has criticized Iran's “weak economic diplomacy” in neighboring countries it holds sway with, such as Syria. This weakness, Amirzadeh was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying at a meeting with deputies, “has made it difficult for us to function defensively, even in areas where we have a strong presence.”
He went on: "Iran’s share of the Syrian economy is only three percent, while Turkey has taken up 30 percent of the country's trade... A platform must be provided for Iranian investors and businessmen on the international scene to bear the least amount of damage.” He called on businesses to "open their hands to work in various fields".
In a startling break with the usual line, Amirzadeh went on to say that reducing tensions with the wider world and trying to engage constructively needed to be an economic priority for Iran. “Unfortunately, in many historical moments, instead of choosing to participate, we chose challenge and tension, and the results of this choice were repeatedly demonstrated in different indicators.”
Regional Exports: How Does Iran Compare?
Turkey's total exports to neighboring countries in the first quarter of this year were worth US$4.33 billion, up 21 percent on the same period last year. Syria was the fifth-biggest importer of Turkish goods, worth a total of $324.5m, and the second-biggest importer of Turkish grains, legumes, and oilseeds.
The Iranian government has claimed Tehran's total exports to 15 neighboring countries were worth $14bn in the first seven months of the current Iranian fiscal year (from March 21 to October 20, 2021). Rouhollah Latifi, a spokesman for Iran’s Customs Administration (IRICA), said Iraq imported more than 19.7 million tons of goods from Iran, worth more than 5.4 billion dollars. The next biggest importers of Iranian goods were Turkey, the UAE and Afghanistan. Syria was not included on the list of 15 countries.
Last August Farzad Piltan, director-general of Iran's Trade Promotion Organization (TPO)'s Office of Arabian and African Countries, said Iran currently ranks seventh among countries exporting to Syria, and had recorded an expert growth rate of 36 percent during four months, from March 21 to July 20, compared to the same period in 2020.
Iranian exports to Syria include electrical conductors, iron and steel, baby formula, spare parts for steam turbines, medicines, and food supplies. Piltan then said Turkey had a 38 per cent share of exports to Syria, China 20 per cent, Egypt seven per cent, Russia with four per cent, India and Lebanon with a little over three percent, and Iran with three percent. The most important Syrian exports to Iran in the same period included phosphate, olive oil and textile materials, worth a cumulative four million dollars.
Ministers to Meet to Deal with Trade "Issues"
Last March, Piltan announced a plan to ramp up trade with Syria to 1.5 billion dollars’ worth annually within three years. The Iranian Trade Promotion Organization first aims to export 400 million dollars’ worth of goods to Syria in exchange for 100 million dollars’ worth of imports in 2023, adding that “technical and engineering services will cover” the remainder. Both countries, he said, were facing problems with banking transactions, the high cost of transporting goods, and the difficulty of establishing normal communication between the two sides.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade, Mohammad Samer al-Khalil, has met with Iran’s ambassador to Damascus, Mehdi Sobhani, to discuss hosting a second exclusive exhibition of Iranian products in the Syrian capital between November 29 and December 3. This comes as part of a memorandum of understanding signed at the 14th session of the Syrian Iranian Joint Committee.
The head of the Iranian Trade Promotion Organization, Alireza Peyman-Pak, has also said the Iranian Minister of Industry will soon visit the Syrian prime minister and cabinet members to discuss “issues” related to exports to Syria, including currency and customs duties for exports.