Saturday 1 October 2016

Mission to Tehran: Ireland's push into new market

Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30

Enterprise Ireland (EI) is planning to lead at least 20 healthcare firms on a scoping visit to Iran in May in the agency's first market mission to the country since trade sanctions were lifted last month, the Irish Independent has learned.

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Iran emerged from years of economic isolation when world powers lifted crippling sanctions against the Islamic Republic in return for Tehran complying with a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions.

It's hoped that global companies that have been barred from doing business there will be able to tap into the market of almost 80 million people.

Enterprise Ireland, which is tasked with boosting the exporting potential of Irish firms, said opportunities for Irish companies over the coming years could be in the hundreds of millions of euro.

"There's no real way to measure as there's no quality data to lean on. [But] about €440m in exports goes to the Gulf Cooperation Council states [from EI-backed firms] and that's a population of 47 million," Sean Davis, EI's Dubai-based regional manager Middle East & North Africa, said.

"Iran is a population of 80 million and Tehran is approximately the same distance to get to as Kuwait City and it's easier to get to than Oman and Jordan.

"The GDP per capita is lower, but we're fairly confident, given the fossil fuel wealth and mineral wealth, that in the next five to ten years it [the financial opportunity for Irish companies] would be significant, in the hundreds of millions.

"That's purely an extrapolation based on what EI clients currently do in the Gulf states."

Mr Davis said the agency would be targeting the healthcare, financial services and agri-technology sectors in its first push into the country over the coming months.

Iran has also courted the aviation sector in recent weeks amid plans to buy more than 100 aircraft from Airbus.

Irish-founded leasing company Avolon has already lobbied the Government to reopen Ireland's embassy in Iran.

Enterprise Ireland held exploratory meetings in Iran last March in anticipation of the lifting of sanctions and to assess opportunities.

The agency said that at the Arab Health trade show in Dubai last week, it had 20 EI client companies in the city involved in an Iran workshop.

"That's the first sector we've decided to action on. Off the back of that, we were looking at doing a market visit with a number of clients. That number is to be confirmed but certainly the core 20 from the seminar would be part of that," Mr Davis said.

The companies are expected to travel to the Iran Health trade show in Tehran in May.

"When we were there some months back, we visited hospitals, we visited labs, and we clearly could identify there were opportunities for our indigenous sector to grow there and there's a massive appetite for goods and services in Iran now," Mr Davis added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the lifting of sanctions would see foreign investment turn Iran into an exporter of manufactured goods and ease its reliance on oil exports.

President Rouhani travelled to Europe in recent weeks as part of a delegation that included Iranian entrepreneurs as well as the oil and gas minister and other government officials visiting Paris and Rome.

EI said interest has been expressed from Irish companies in aviation, healthcare and fintech, although it pointed out that those companies are active and based in the Gulf already.

"A lot of our clients would have offices and people in the Gulf," Mr Davis said.

"They would be very current on what's happening there. We've had to adopt a steady pace a bit because there are snap back clauses in the sanctions as well, so these sanctions that have been lifted can be very quickly reinstated. It's a process, but so far it has all gone to plan and that gives us the opportunity to move forward."

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