A morning breeze in the east
Recent signs pointing to a better economic climate in Iran, thanks to improving relations with several trading partners, have been welcomed by business communities the world over.
According to Iran’s ministry of economic affairs and finance, 800 foreign investors visited the country in the period following the easing of sanctions up to early May of this year. Yousef Sherkati, CEO and member of the board of the international group Transinvest, a company domiciled in Switzerland, recently shared his enthusiasm about the revival of trade with Iran with ITJ correspondent Christine Kulke-Fiedler.
How important is Iran in Transinvest’s overall business?
Several companies and networks in our group have been involved in transport and logistics operations with Iran for more than 50 years, and have had offices of their own there for a very long time. Our entities also focus on transit operations, taking international consignments through Iran. One of our firms that I want to draw your attention to is the Perse International Forwarding Co. This network of companies is active in every Iranian transport and logistics field.
In what ways has your group’s infrastructure expanded in Iran in recent years?
We aren’t only experienced in the market, with developed know-how, but also have the appropriate infrastructure in Iran itself, as you say. Our focus in the years before the revolution – especially in the period before the collapse of the Soviet Union – was on the regions in the north. Our transit freight passed through the former Soviet Union, via Djulfa, through Turkey, via Bazarghan and across the Caspian Sea. Later the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas was developed and expanded, and our focus shifted there.
Your group is obviously well-positioned for an upturn in international trade with Iran. Are you already experiencing this growth?
Iranian imports declined drastically during the embargo, but we were able to retain all our managers by concentrating on providing services to the minerals export sector, as well as offering freight transit facilities to and from central Asia through Iran. We presently have many new enquiries coming in and are making many new contacts. We hope that these will result in concrete new business opportunities before long.
You have a direct business interest in the port of Bandar Abbas. Several large shipping lines decided not to call at Bandar Abbas any more in recent years. Are some of these activities returning?
Our group has more than 700,000 sqm of terminal and storage area in Bandar Abbas and we’re the only service provider there with a private terminal with railway sidings. We also have a terminal with railway sidings for bulk transhipments there.
Some lines have signed up for resumed direct services to Bandar Abbas. Others are negotiating with us. A number of companies have their bills of lading issued directly to Bandar Abbas, yet they get the containers themselves routed via Jebel Ali (UAE), using feeder services provided by third parties. The shipping companies that resort to these arrangements include Yang Ming, OOCL, Wan Hai, Emirates, Evergreen, Hyundai, Hanjin, MSC, Messina, PIL and Perma.
Have the changes in the structure of Iranian foreign trade affected business?
In the last Iranian calendar year (to 20 March), around 75% of Iran’s imports came from Asia, and only 22% from Europe. In the 1990s the ratio was more or less the opposite. So we had to change the focus of our activities accordingly, especially with respect to the source of imports. With the easing of the embargo we’ll certainly be taking up imports from Europe and the US again, provided there is the requisite customer interest.
One of the Iranian government’s transport policy priorities is the development of international corridors. What is the state of these projects?
Since the revolution Iran has invested heavily in the railway sector, amongst other fields. Transinvest also became heavily involved in the railway sector. One of our projects was for a terminal for conventional cargo, with an adjacent rail terminal, a container facility as well as a bulk freight rail hub.
Another project we’re involved in is for the development of rail corridors, particularly for the north–south trade. This is moving along satisfactorily. Of course it’s true that many railway routes are still single-track, and not electrified. Transport operations are thus relatively simple. But we expect several new opportunities to open up in the near future, especially in the international corridors east and west of the Caspian Sea, as well as along the New Silk Road to China.
Are any of your firms active at the new border-crossing points to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, or to other countries?
As mentioned, we’re heavily involved in transit operations, for example providing services to Afghanistan via Bandar Abbas and Tayebad, or logistics services to Turkmenistan for various kinds of equipment suppliers. We also haul cotton and fertilizers from Uzbekistan. In order to provide the best possible service to our customers we have a presence at all major border crossings, old and new, either through partners or with our own agents.
Are you planning any new investment projects in transport and logistics services to improve your business with Iran?
We’re exploring opportunities in Bandar Abbas for a bulk export terminal and are also looking into the purchase of hopper wagons. We’re also talking to PMO about a joint investment in a third container-handling dock in Bandar Abbas. In any case, one way or another we’re confident that there is a rosy future for the transport and logistics business in trade with and through Iran.