$150 bn investment opportunity in Iran: Middle East Bank said

Lifting of economic sanctions on Iran which could be announced anytime soon will open up huge business opportunities for investors across the world and India is best suited to grab that.

This was stated by Parviz Aghili, MD, Middle East Bank (MEB), Iran’s largest private bank in an interview to Rajesh Bhayani.

The bank will have office in India and has formed a joint venture based in Mumbai with IndAsia Fund Advisors, a corporate finance and investment advisory firm, run by Pradip Shah to facilitate trade and investment flows with Iran. Aghili is in Mumbai and meeting Indian companies. Excerpts from the interview with Business Standard:

Q: What kind of opportunities are emerging in Iran after sanctions are lifted?

A: Iran has been under sanctions since past 5-6 years and last three years sanctions were stringent as banks were included, though there were no sanctions on MEB. Now an atmosphere has emerged and sanctions could be lifted soon. Once that happens, I see $150 billion business opportunity in Iran will open up for foreign investors.

Iran has money as it has huge crude oil, natural gas, petrochemicals and minerals for exports and it is dependent on imports to feed its population. There are joint ventures or trade opportunities in infrastructure development, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, consumer goods and many other items. You put a figure on list of businesses and Iran will provide opportunity in that area.

However, Indian companies can look forwards for opportunities in water, minerals etc also. Iran has over a period of time developed water purifying techniques especially for industrial use, conservation of water etc. which Indian companies can import in India. Iran also produces surplus copper, iron ore which it exports.

Q: However India may face competition from Chinese companies to get Iranian business?

A: In fact as a banker I heard from Iranian companies that their experience with Chinese companies post sanctions days is disappointing because according to them Chinese companies took advantage of situation in dealing with them although I hope things will improve now.

However, this is an opportune time for Indian companies to expand business ties with Iranian companies. As far as competition is concerned, companies from across globe will be eager to grab the emerging opportunities in Iran post sanctions. One multinational trading firm has already set up office in Dubai to be ready when Iran opens up post sanctions.

Q: In that case where does India stand?

A: Iran is geographically best placed as from there Indian companies can deal with central Asian countries and CIS countries, Afghanistan etc. Iran has also proposed preferential trade agreement with India and India is developing a port there. Apart from that India has expertise in hotel and hospital management, very good potential to exports agri commodities to Iran. Consumer goods, menthol, pharmaceutical products etc are other areas where India can exploit opportunities.

Q: You must be meeting Indian companies to tap potential?

A: We are meeting a few pharma companies, couple of fertilizer makers, auto companies among others during my India visit and response has been good. Two fertilizer companies have already expressed their interest in exploring opportunities in Iran. India has huge potential to import fertilizer from Iran and Indian companies can consider joint ventures for Iranian companies. India can import polymers and petrochemicals as Iran is making them with several special grade items which India need.

Q: But Iran’s political climate may be an area for concern for Indian companies?

A: Not really. In fact Iran welcomes foreign investment. Iran in fact has passed an act called Foreign Investors Protection Act to protect overseas business houses coming to Iran. Iran has money. Iran needs expertise. What is required to watch is how quickly sanctions are lifted. They are lifted at one go or in phases, whether there will be limited co-operation and so on.

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