French business chiefs visit Iran as sanctions eased

In the short term, business opportunities are limited, but the potential of Iran’s market is a magnet for foreign firms

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A team of French entrepreneurs will meet Iranian business leaders on Monday on one of the biggest foreign trade missions to visit Tehran since the Islamic Republic won an easing of some economic sanctions.

The prospect of a relaxation of commercial restrictions has whetted the appetite of French firms eager to win back business in an oil- and gas-producing country of about 80 million people where some previously had extensive operations.

The delegation of more than 100 executives from the French Medef bosses’ association, on a Feb 2-5 trip, will meet members of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture later on Monday, the official IRNA news agency said.

A source at the French embassy in Tehran told Reuters the visit was merely exploratory and “nothing is to be signed this time around.”

“The delegation is scouting for potential grounds of cooperation and possibly revive their old presence. Our investors never entirely abandon Iran. They just cut down their presence and are now looking for a comeback.”

The semi-official Fars news agency reported the Deputy Head of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization (TPO), Mehdi Mir Aboutalebi, as saying the delegation included executives from sectors including automobiles, mining, energy, water, electricity, aviation, railways, roads, maritime, financial institutes, banking and tourism.

Mir Aboutalebi said he believed the delegation was the largest to visit Iran from a European country since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Fars reported.

He added the French delegation would hold talks with President Hassan Rowhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, and the head of the Foreign Investment Organization of Iran, Behrouz Alishiri.

Under November’s interim deal between Iran and six world powers, Iran agreed to stop production of 20 percent enriched uranium by Jan. 20.

In return some sanctions imposed over the nuclear program - which Western countries suspect is aimed at developing arms despite Iranian denials - were relaxed from that date.

Iran will be able to spend $4.2 billion in unfrozen funds over six months, although most sanctions remain pending a long-term agreement.

In the short term, business opportunities are limited, but the potential of Iran’s market is a magnet for foreign firms seeking long-term opportunities.

Former French ambassador to Iran Francois Nicoullaud told Reuters that French firms that operated in Iran before the sanctions wanted to return.

He cited Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Airbus Group, Credit Agricole, Societe Generale and BNP Paribas.

Peugeot and Renault already sent executives to Iran for an automotive conference last year.

Last month, Reuters reported that Iran and Russia were negotiating a deal worth $1.5 billion a month under which Russia would buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goods.

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