Iran has a wide variety of arts and skills, placing it among the top three countries in terms of producing handicrafts. In spite of this, Iran is not among the first 30 exporting countries of handicrafts.
According to the chairman of Iran's Handicraft Exporters Union, Majid Reza Hariri, Iran can increase its exports of handicrafts from the current $200 million to $2 billion in a matter of five years.
Hariri, who is also the deputy of Iran-China Chamber of Commerce, believes that emerging markets such as China and Russia are the main destinations for Iranian handicrafts.
To get the latest situation of the Iranian handicraft industry, Iran Daily conducted an interview with Hariri.
The following is an excerpt of the interview.
IRAN DAILY: How do you see the current situation of production and exports of handicrafts?
MAJID REZA HARIRI: Economically speaking, the statistics show that revenues from the exports of handicrafts have been significantly increasing every year. On average, there has been a 15-percent increase in exports of handicrafts in the past five or six years, with exports even rising by 22 percent at some point.
According to the figures released by the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration (IRICA), exports of handicrafts now stand at $200 million. This is, however, debatable since exports of handicrafts as luggage is not registered by IRICA.
The point is that we have not been able to capitalize on the capacities of the handicraft industry, be it in the domestic market or foreign ones.
Iran ranks among the top three countries, along with China and India, in terms of diversity and production of handicrafts in the world. From floor coverings, such as rugs and ziloos, to handwoven textiles, gems, wood carving, and pottery, Iran boasts a diverse range of handicrafts. We can do much better than what we are doing now in exports. The increase of foreign currencies this year has, however, encouraged the exports of handicrafts.
What are the benefits of production and exports of handicrafts?
Production of handicrafts does not rely on imported raw materials. The reliance is very meager; maybe one or two percent, and that is for the import of dyes and chemicals used in glazing pottery.
For instance, when a car is exported to Iraq, 85 percent of its parts have been imported to some extent. However, in handicraft industry, when something worth $100 is exported, you can say that most of this $100, expect for one or two dollars, has been generated through domestic labor and skills.
In addition, to create a job in heavy industries like steel and petrochemicals, we need an investment of almost $2,000. However, to create a job in handicraft industry, you only need $200. This means that the expansion of handicraft industry can create sustainable employment, in particular in rural areas. You can say that the socio-political benefits of handicrafts are as many as its economic ones.
Why is it that we have not been able to capitalize on the capacities of the handicraft industry in the global markets?
We can cite a couple of reasons for this. On the one hand, people in Iran from all walks of life, see a lot of handicrafts around them. This makes having handicrafts something usual and not very artistic or worthy. Therefore, we do not pay too much attention to handicrafts and ignore them.
On the other hand, more than 80 percent of export revenues come from oil and its derivatives as well as minerals, all of which are natural resources. Basically, we cannot export other things very well to other countries, except to Iraq, Afghanistan and a couple of other places.
Our raw materials are exported to Europe. These countries then generate lots of added value by manufacturing other products from these raw materials. This is while our handicrafts can be directly exported to the end-users.
Given the current economic conditions of Iran, can we have a special outlook for production, exports and revenues of handicrafts?
In general, the handicraft industry is a big one in the world. If we are to have good revenues here, we need to enter into handicraft skills that have more turnovers in the world, such as artistic products, including paintings. However, except for gem stones and jewelry, the handicraft industry in our country does not make up a big portion of the world's revenues in this industry.
Therefore, we should not expect the handicraft industry to constitute a large portion of our economy.
Unfortunately, the negative publicity against our country in Western mainstream media has had a negative impact on the handicraft industry. These lies and negative publicity create a bad image in the minds of the Europeans and we cannot expect them to go and buy our handicrafts, which are kind of the symbols of our nation. This makes it difficult to promote our handicraft industry in the world.
One of the way to promote our handicraft products is to sell them to tourists. People visiting Iran can buy handicrafts and then take it to their countries with their luggage. But, we have problems here too since the number of tourists is not too much.
Putting these issues aside, the current $200 million earned from the exports of handicrafts can easily reach $2 billion by devising an appropriate five-year plan. Apart from exports, we can also sell lots of handicrafts within the country as well. And then can count on handicraft industry more.
In the light of what you have said, what should be done to promote our handicrafts in the world markets?
First, the government needs to engage in marketing for our handicrafts because the producers and activists involved in making handicrafts usually work in small home workshops. These people are unable to find the markets for their products.
In general, all the governments support and help marketing for handicraft producers.
As a person active in economy, I believe that governments should not interfere in trade and production and create especial economic rent for certain persons. However, I believe that the government needs to be involved in handicraft industry since here we need to promote the culture, history and identity of a nation, something that can be done by state-run cultural organizations.
The presence of handicraft traders in international exhibitions can be facilitated by the government as well. Many of these traders cannot pay for the price of such exhibitions.
Do you think that we can attain the $2 billion of exports of handicrafts? How realistic is that?
Fortunately, we have had a growing trend in exporting our handicrafts in recent years. We only need to focus on some relatively emerging markets, including China, Russia and Brazil. We can reach that target in these markets.
In addition, we can now have a stronger presence in international markets. Just last November, we sold $60,000 of handicrafts in a small pavilion in Shanghai Import Exhibition in China. Greater presence in such exhibitions would promote our handicrafts in the world.
We have doubled our presence in China in the past year. And we are trying to establish a permanent exhibition of our handicrafts in this country. In a few months, we will establish a handicraft exhibition in Shanghai.