Trade between Iran and France following the implementation of the nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has seen a threefold jump, according to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Addressing a business forum held at Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture's Tehran headquarters on Tuesday in the presence of his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was accompanied by a 100-member economic delegation, Zarif said bilateral trade in the 11 months of 2016 stood at €1.7 billion.
“The two countries’ potential for economic cooperation is far more than that,” he was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
The Iranian foreign minister added that the post-sanctions era has opened up new opportunities for both countries to have effective economic ties.
“With the political developments in the United States and Europe, economic collaboration with other countries is facing numerous challenges. Yet, the Islamic Republic of Iran is all set to become a reliable trade partner for European countries, particularly France, based on mutual interests,” he said.
Zarif underlined the importance of partnership between the private sectors of the two countries.
“Particular attention should be directed toward small- and medium-scale projects as well as major and large-scale projects,” he said.
“Cooperation with France is welcome in different sectors of oil and natural gas, petrochemicals, transportation, mining, science and technology, water and environment since these sectors are Iran's priorities in the sixth five-year development plan (2016-21).”
The development plans offer a medium-term roadmap designed by the government and Majlis to help achieve sustainable growth, outlining strategies in its budget planning for the next five years.
> Long-Term Cooperation
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France has planned long-term cooperation with Iran in infrastructural projects, such as rail, ports, aviation and renewable energies.
“Development of bilateral economic ties is contingent on training young workforce, and French companies are ready to provide such training in modern agriculture, management of infrastructures, transportation and higher education,” he said.
Ayrault viewed the absence of human capital as a major obstacle to improvement of mutual ties and said, “Over the past months, 17 memorandums of understanding have been signed between the two countries’ universities, which are bound to have an effective impact on the quality of future economic interactions.”
He viewed the opening of “Business France" office in Tehran as a sign of France's determination to improve cooperation with Iran and said normalization of banking ties is being pursued by his government.
Paris opened the first major European trade office in Tehran back in September 2015 during the visit of a French delegation led by the Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism and French Nationals Overseas Matthias Fekl and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and Government Spokesperson Stephane Le Foll.
The new Business France office, located at the country’s diplomatic mission in Tehran, seeks to facilitate commercial relations between the two countries.
Major French corporations, including planemaker Airbus, oil giant Total and automobile manufacturers Peugeot and Renault, have all signed deals with Iranian companies following the nuclear deal.
“France has been quick in issuing export guarantees for Iran and this is an indication of trust we have in Iran. Iran, for its part, has to remove its financial obstacles for foreign investors to enter the market,” Ayrault said.
The French foreign minister noted that the two countries would work to ease visa issuance.
On Monday, Ayrault said France plans to double the number of visas it issues to Iranians.
"France wants to be able to allow a larger number of Iranians wishing to travel to France to ask for a visa in improved conditions," he was quoted as saying.
"This project, which aims to double the number of visas currently issued for Iran, should take effect in the summer of 2017," he said at the French ambassador's residence in Tehran.
France has been issuing 41,000 visas a year to Iranian nationals.
Upon his arrival in Tehran, the minister also said it was in the "common interest" that the 2015 accord under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for lifted sanctions was respected.
“I'm coming as the defender of the accord, but to be vigilant and explain that they (the Iranians) must be irreproachable,” he said.
“We harbor real concerns about the US administration’s attitude toward this agreement.”
> Main Hurdle
"Currently, complications associated with money transfer and banking transactions are the main obstacle to commercial interactions between the two countries," said the president of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, Gholamhossein Shafei, who was hosting the meeting.
Shafei added that given the extensive experience and high-end technological development of French industries, companies of the two sides can forge alliances in fields such as infrastructure, construction, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, transportation, environment and telecommunications.
At the end of the meeting, five memorandums of understanding were signed between the two sides, including a cooperation document for development of Mashhad International Airport, two MoUs with Iran Fisheries Organization, one for the construction of a bioethanol factory in Kermanshah and another for sturgeon farming technology transfer.
> France: A First Mover
French officials were among the first foreign delegations to visit Iran after the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.
“Respect and restart are two key words that describe the current phase of our bilateral relations,” French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism and French Nationals Abroad Matthias Fekl told Financial Tribune prior to his late-September Tehran visit.
“The lifting of sanctions following the Vienna agreement has created excellent opportunities for both French and Iranian businesses in the interests of both our countries,” he added.
Soon after the implementation of the nuclear deal, that is when sanctions against Iran began to be lifted, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani set off to France after a visit to Italy.
Iran signed an array of deals worth €30 billion ($33 billion) during the France visit, according to Bloomberg calculations. Some media outlets like British newspaper The Independent put the overall figure at a whopping €40 billion.
The deals were signed in a special ceremony attended by Rouhani and his French counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris.
They include a multibillion dollar agreement to buy 118 passenger planes from Airbus. Later on December 22, Iran Air and Airbus signed a firm contract for a total of 100 jets. One of the planes, an Airbus A321, landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport on January 17 to mark the first jet Iran received from western planemakers after the nuclear deal.