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US, EU exports to Iran soar despite sanctions

The US reimposed sanctions lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal on Iran in August.

The US and Europe diverge on the need to uphold a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but their trade path has taken a curiously similar trajectory since Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran in August.   

While Iran’s exports to the United States almost reached zero in October, its imports from the country grew, a month after the first round of the sanctions was imposed, new data has shown.

Meanwhile, German exports to the Islamic Republic soared during the period.

Official figures by the Federal Statistics Office showed German companies exported almost 400 million euros ($455 million) to Iran in October, a rise of 85 percent year-on-year.

Chemicals made up about half the German goods and machines and plant equipment accounted for a third, Reuters reported.

German exports to Iran grew by 4 percent to 2.4 billion euros in the first 10 months of this year, with Michael Tockuss of the German-Iranian Chambers of Commerce and Industry expecting them to continue growing.

The report is one rare piece of good news in an ongoing struggle to keep European trade with Iran on track.

For months, the Europeans have been working on a virtual clearing house to process Iran-related transactions independent of the US.

The three main countries behind the initiative - Germany, France and the UK – say they have set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran.

However, they appear to be passing the buck on who should take the responsibility for the system and house it.

Last month, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said he had warned the Europeans that Iranian patience was wearing thin.

Salehi said while the European Union’s efforts were encouraging, “we have not yet seen any tangible results.”

Iran is disappointed with a mass exodus of major European companies which began even before the sanctions kicked in after President Donald Trump announced pulling the US out of the nuclear deal in May.

In quitting Iran, multinational European firms ignored pleas by their governments to stay their ground and continue trade.

Among German companies, engineering group Siemens, state-owned Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Bahn, car manufacturer Daimler and mechanical engineering company Herrenknecht were the first to leave Iran.

However, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) stayed behind. According to Tockuss, SMEs or Mittelstand provided most of the exports to Iran in October.  

Around 1,000 German Mittelstand companies reportedly have business ties to Iran and 130 have set up branches in the country.  

“Thousands of small- and medium-sized German companies that have nothing to do with the United States can easily trade with Iran,” former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said last month.

Gabriel visited Iran at the head of an economic delegation of chief executives and representatives of German companies.

“We wholeheartedly support and welcome the cooperation of SMEs of the two countries," Germany's Ambassador to Tehran Michael Klor-Berchtold said then.

Tockuss told DW last month that he expected SMEs to carry out 200 million euros-250 million euros a month of German exports to Iran even under the US sanctions.

According to figures released by the US Census Bureau, Iranian exports sharply declined even as Iran’s imports from the United States continued at their highest level in October.  


Iran mostly exports carpets, dried fruit, pistachios to the United States and imports mostly medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural products from the country.

Iran’s exports to US between January and August rose by 35 percent to $67.5 million, but have plummeted close to zero since then, the US figures showed.

In the eight months since January, US exports to Iran soared 273 percent year-on-year to about $410 million and have kept steady since.

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