Russia says Iran could join an emerging economic bloc that it leads as early as May in a move that could eventually help both nations dodge the impacts of US-led economic sanctions they face.
Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak was quoted by media as saying that Iran’s membership to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) could help the expansion of bilateral trade and investment between Tehran and Moscow.
“The move to enter into a temporary agreement making for a free trade zone to be set up between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union, which is currently at an advanced stage, will obviously trigger further development of our bilateral trade and expansion of investment cooperation,” said Novak, who is also co-head of the Russian-Iranian intergovernmental commission.
A trade official in Tehran had said last December the Islamic Republic expected the formalities over its membership to the EEU to be finalized soon.
Behrouz Hassanolfat, the director of Europe and Americas Department of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, was quoted by Iran’s domestic media as saying that an agreement with the Union’s member states would be signed as early as February 2018.
The EEU is an economic union of former Soviet states including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and Russia which leads it. The Union is meant to guarantee free transit of goods, services, capital and workers among member states.
The bloc which began functioning on 1 January 2015 is being considered as a major economic force to challenge the might of the European Union and the US.
The EEU is a single market comprising Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia that was set up in 2015.
More than 40 countries and international organizations, including China, Indonesia and some South American countries, have expressed interest in a free trade deal with the EEU. The trade bloc has also held negotiations with South Korea, Egypt and India.
The Union had already announced that it would sign a membership deal with Iran before the end of 2017.
The EEU’s prime ministers resolved in March to make talks with Tehran a priority, scenting an opportunity to expand beyond the bloc’s combined market of 183 million people.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said last August that Moscow wanted Iran to join the EEU – a move that was seen as crucial in bringing the two countries closer in their plans to form a strategic partnership.
Putin emphasized that a research had already started overt the possibility of creating a free-trade zone between Iran and the EEU.
“Iran is Russia’s longtime partner. We believe that bilateral relations will benefit from the reduction of tensions around Iran following the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program,” Putin was quoted by the media as saying.