As the congressional debate over the Iranian nuclear agreement continues, it remains an open question if American businesses can ever tap into the Iranian market. However, Moshen Farshneshani, director of relations for the United States-Iran Chamber of Commerce has few doubts. He told CBS MoneyWatch that U.S. businesses shouldn't count themselves out when it comes to a market of 80 million people that demographically skews very young: 42 percent of Iranians are just 24 years old or younger.
MoneyWatch: How long has the USIRCC been around?
Farshneshani: It was established in March 2014. We have expanded our operations and assistance to businesses since April 2015 when the (nuclear) framework agreement was signed.
MoneyWatch: What's the chamber's goal?
Farshneshani: To facilitate trade relations between the two nations and to expand American goods and services to Iran, which will in turn lead to the creation of American jobs. With the deal made two weeks ago, we are preparing companies that are able to trade with Iran within the legal parameters already set by the federal government.
European and Asian companies have already made advances into what many are calling the world's largest untapped emerging market. We believe that American companies should be partaking in this unparalleled opportunity and making deals in Iran as well.
Lastly, we will be organizing conferences, seminars and trade shows with the aim to deflate many of the misconceptions each nation has about the other.
MoneyWatch: It has been decades since the U.S. and Iran had regular trade relations. Why shouldn't American investors and businesspeople be leery of commerce with Iran? How far away are we from actually being able to do business with each other?
Farshneshani: American companies should be confident in the Iranian market and the potential investments they could make in it. Historically, there's been a lot of success between these two nations. In 1978, for example, with a small economy and mere population of 35 million, bilateral trade peaked when the U.S. exported $3.7 billion worth of goods to Iran and imported $2.9 billion worth. At the end of the day, these are business-to-business relationships mutually interested in a lucrative return.
With the vetting process we have in place, we provide a high level of certainty that the newly forged relationship will be successful. Furthermore, we are not politically affiliated to any government, political party or any other form of political entity from either country. Our sole purpose is to facilitate trade relations.
At the moment, there are already exceptions to the imposed sanctions that allow trade, including the export of American food, agricultural commodities, medical supplies and devices. The sanction adjustments coming from the U.S. at the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action implementation date (at least months from now) will allow the import of food and Persian rugs from Iran and the export of civilian aircraft and parts to Iran. Additionally, American companies will be able to operate in Iran via foreign subsidiaries with a license.
MoneyWatch: Several major global trade players like China have been doing business for years in Iran. Does that mean U.S. businesses may be at too much of a competitive disadvantage to get a toehold?
Farshneshani: No, it's quite simple: Iran holds plenty of economic promise. The country is home to one of the world's largest energy and mineral reserves. Iran has a largely young and educated population with widespread Internet access, making Iran a fertile landscape for today's global market.
There will always be a place for American companies in Iran, since there will always be a demand for what the innovative American economy has to offer. For instance, America is home to the world's leading startup community and venture capital, and there's a promising startup scene emerging in Iran that could use the expertise and resources that Silicon Valley has to offer.
In addition, American products are viewed favorably over all imports in Iran. Even with little trade between the two countries, American products have found their way into the Iranian marketplace and have maintained a reputation for being preferred to competitor products.
MoneyWatch: Some global trade experts are warning that Iran still has some major ramping up to do when it comes with dealing with foreign investment. Does the USIRCC think the risk-reward balance can be tipped to U.S. investors?
Farshneshani: Since it will take some time for American companies to freely do business with Iran, Americans have the advantage of learning from the trials and errors of their European counterparts. But aside from that, Iranian officials have already begun to reform the nation's economy to attract foreign investment. Iran has offered to sell state assets to foreign entities and has promised to cut the government's role in the economy.
At a business conference last week in Vienna, Iranian officials outlined pro-market policies that, according to a Reuters report, resembled those of a center-right European government. It has also been reported that when sanctions are lifted, the central bank will keep some of its frozen assets in accounts abroad to strengthen foreign investors' confidence in the nuclear deal.
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