Iran Knowledge Workshop
“The Iranian Government is really very open to encouraging international trade…”
– Gerard Seeber. Australian Senior Trade Commissioner, MENA Austrade.
“I see a lot of similarities between the UAE of 20 years ago, and the Iran of today.”
– Dr. Daniel Evans. General Manager MENA, Templeton Galt.
Just a two of the takeaway messages from last night’s member’s only Iran Knowledge Workshop held at Novotel and Ibis, Abu Dhabi Gate. An evening geared at exploring what it means with regard to doing business in Iran since economic sanctions were dropped earlier this year.
Joining Gerard Seeber and Dr. Evans on the panel were Dr. Amir Kordvani, Sharrokh Khazaei, and Kelvin Templeton – who also served as moderator for the event. Dr. Kordvani is Legal Director and Head of Iran and Projects for CMS Cameron McKenna, while Mr Khazaei is an Iranian business executive and owner of Sanido Trading. Mr. Templeton is the Founder and Managing Director of the strategic planning and management agency, Templeton Galt.
In her opening speech, AusBG Chair, Ellecia Saffron, introduced the panel and then offered a startling observation – the removal of sanctions could mean that those who are ready to approach the developing Iranian market will have access to up to $13 billion worth of opportunities. In fact, for the sponsors of this event, it is already the case -- Novatel and Ibis is the first multinational hotel to open in Tehran, and Servcorp have recently opened their first serviced and virtual office operation in Tehran as well.
Kelvin added that beyond Novatel and Servcorp, there appears to be a much wider international business interest on the ground in Iran. In his frequent visits to Tehran he has noticed an increase of international guests working their way around the city, a situation that suggests the beginning of a rush toward new economic partnerships with Iranian business.
However, for Australia, the concept of trading with Iran is nothing new. Gerard Seeber noted that in the mid-1990s there was significant trade between the two countries, and it is this history of strong trading relationships that offers a foundation for Australia and Iran in the post-sanction era.
Gerard also made it clear that its not all smooth sailing, but many of the risks are at least quantifiable and can be overcome by undertaking due diligence before entering into any business dealings.
This is something that Dr. Kordvani agreed with by suggesting that while it is possible to work autonomously in Iran, it doesn’t mean that it would be easy. He then reinforced the idea that a solid working relationship with a trusted partner would likely make the conduct of business more efficient in both the short, and long term.
“And, beyond all of this, it is a fascinating country – filled with 80 million welcoming people,” added Dr. Daniel Evans. “If nothing else, you should go and take a look at it to see for yourself.”
Dr. Evans also remarked that living under severe economic sanctions has made the Iranian people resilient and resourceful, and that while there are risks, there is also a desire to do business which could mitigate much of the power of a potential revolutionary guard government.
In a response to a question from AusBG Vice Chair, David Hackett, regarding what it was business was actually like “on the ground” in Iran, Mr. Sharrokh Khazaei sought to resolve some misconceptions.
“To do business in Iran is easy, or at least no more difficult than anywhere else in the region” he said. Mr Khazaei went on to suggest that rumours about anything to do with Iran are not always based on truth. He also agreed with the other panellists that prospective international business investors should “…find out what they need before going into business. If you do this it will help you pick a partner that can be trusted.”
Many might consider that Iran is a country shrouded in myth and mystery. An unapproachable, secretive place that is resistant to outside influence. The lifting of sanctions has done much to push that veil of secrecy aside, offering access to a wide range of opportunities for those willing to do the groundwork to benefit from them.
After all, as Mr Khazaei stated at the end of his time on this evening’s panel: “Someone must have the courage to be first. Being second is already too late.”
Those who came along to the workshop were left with a lot to consider; although many attendees may have seen that Etihad fly twice daily to Tehran, and simply decided that they should go and see what the all the fuss is about.