0908 GMT March 26, 2019
The 15-member body unanimously voted in favor of the Vienna agreement to lift restrictions on Iran. The vote on Monday marked the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime that has taken a heavy toll on the country’s economy, the Guardian reported.
The European Union also approved the Iran deal on Monday, a first step towards lifting Europe's economic sanctions against Tehran that the bloc hopes will send a signal that the US Congress will follow.
In a message mainly aimed at skeptical voices in the US Congress and strong resistance from Israel, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels stressed that there was no better option available.
Ministers waited until the UN Security Council also voted to endorse the July 14 accord and then issued a nine-point text formally committing to a gradual lifting of sanctions along with the United States and the United Nations.
Keen to consider Iran as an alternative supplier of energy at a time of tensions with Russia, the European Union may reopen an EU delegation in Tehran and is seeking business opportunities in the country.
"The Iran deal has a geopolitical impact and also an economic impact on the European Union," said Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who plans to visit Iran in September.
Germany is leading the pack, sending its vice chancellor and economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, along with representatives from some of its top firms including Mercedes-Benz, Siemens and Volkswagen to Tehran for meetings with senior officials.
Gabriel, heading a three-day 100-member delegation, held meetings on Monday with the Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Zanganeh, who said the country’s gas production would surpass 1,000m cubic meters per day in the next three years and that its oil production was expected to reach 4.7m barrels per day “in the near future”.
Germany’s exports to Iran are worth €2.7b a year and it is looking to double that amount, bringing it to the level it was a decade ago.
German companies willing to invest in different sectors
Zanganeh said German companies are willing to enter and invest in different sectors of the Iranian market, petro-chemistry and oil industry in particular.
"German firms are interested in participating in different petrochemical and oil sectors (of Iran) as well as in supplying equipment," Zanganeh said on the sidelines of a Monday meeting with the visiting German vice chancellor.
The Iranian minister went on to say that German firms had lost their position in the Iranian market in recent years, and "are now trying to regain it."
Iran's oil minister further noted that investments in petro-chemistry, energy storage, optimization of energy consumption, and development of new energies are among various plans on which Iran and German companies will cooperate.
German companies working in the field of equipment and machinery should not focus all their attention on the Iranian market only, Zanganeh recommended, adding that they can tap into Iran's capacity to cover the entire region.
Elsewhere in his remarks, he announced that the fifth Iran-Germany Joint Commission will be held in late summer or early fall after 14 years.
Ramin Rabii, chief executive of the Tehran-based Turquoise Partners Group, which facilitates foreign investment in Iran, said the number of Europeans approaching his firm have soared exponentially.
“The amount of interest in Iran has been unbelievable. Before this, in our own company, we received one or two emails every month, but in recent months we are receiving at least 10 to 20 emails per week,” he told the Guardian. “We have hosted more than a 100 foreign investment delegations to Iran over the past 15 months; of those 90% were European, many from Scandinavia, UK, Germany, Italy, but even from the US.”
Under sanctions, Iran’s economy experienced negative growth but since Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, he has managed to bring down the inflation to 15% from its peak of 45%. The economy is also back in positive growth. Official figures put unemployment at 11%, though economists using a tougher definition of joblessness put it at least twice that figure.
Many big oil firms, such as ENI, Shell and Total, are looking into Iran’s oil and gas opportunities. Iran’s Oil Ministry is offering lucrative deals.
With US ties improving, American multinationals such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, which were previously absent from Iran, could also weigh in. It has also been reported that Apple and even McDonald’s are looking into franchise-based business operations in the country.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj is organizing the second Europe-Iran forum in Geneva in September, which brings Iranian business leaders and foreign investors – including France’s Alstom, the United Arab Emirate’s Aujan, and Italy’s SACE – together. He said with sanctions relief, foreign investment will begin to come in within a year.
“Major multinational corporations have already begun planning new or expanded business in Iran, where consumer-focused sectors like FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods], consumer electronics, luxury, and the hospitality and leisure sectors will pose the best near-term opportunities,” he said.