Head of Iran-Kazakhstan Joint Commerce Council Amir Abedi believes that trade between the two countries is potentially capable of being doubled by yearend with the construction of a railroad in the east of Caspian Sea and the resolution of financial problems.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Kazakhstan in September 2013 when the two sides agreed to increase bilateral trade to $3-$5 billion within three to five years.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: Could you tell us briefly about the advantages of investment in Kazakhstan?
AMIR ABEDI: Kazakhstan is one of the major countries in the CIS bloc. The country has a common border with China which is rich in mines. In terms of agriculture, Kazakhstan is the world's second-largest cereal producer after Russia. The country's per capita income is $24,000 which is higher than Iran's.
Last year, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed Eurasian Economic Union to guarantee the free flow of capital, services and human sources between member countries. The EEC will boost cooperation on energy, industry, agriculture and transportation sectors. Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are eager to join the union. Also Iran has expressed interest in becoming a member.
Multilaterally, Kazakhstan is a member Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It has met the necessary criteria to join the World Trade Organization. It will also host the Astana Expo 2017.
How is Iran-Kazakhstan economic relations?
Iran has been a reliable commercial partner for Kazakhstan ever since it gained independence. During these years, relations have experienced some ups and downs but in the last two years trade has improved and trade balance is in Iran's favor. Right now some 400 companies are registered in Kazakhstan's economic sector.
Some figure show the trade stands at about $1 billion but Iran's Custom figures show $300 million. The Kazakhs include techno-engineering services in their figures. Due to sanctions, money transfers were conducted via a third country and some exchanges show that the official figure is low.
Iran's main exports to Kazakhstan are automobiles, garments, chemicals and petrochemical products. Iran also imports cereals, minerals and fertilizers.
When was the council set up and what has it done?
The council was set up after President Rouhani's visit to Kazakhstan as the first base for the private sector to boost the financial cooperation. We have exposed investment opportunities in Kazakhstan to Iranian businessmen. We facilitated the participation of Iranian tradesmen in Astana Build 2015 in May and another expo in Almaty. Recently a group of businessmen took part in oil and electricity expo. Later this month Iranians will join the food industry expo.
Kazakhs also have expressed their inclination to open some Iranian trade offices in Aktau and Almaty. Verbal agreement has been reached while some legal issues remain.
According to you, Iran and Kazakhstan have potentials for cooperation, in which fields?
Iran exerts a major role in the export of techno-engineering services. Some Kazakh products, such as industrial and food produce are reexported through Iran because Iran is the safest, easiest and shortest route for a land-locked Kazakhstan to international markets.
Railway in the east of the Caspian will connect Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to the international waters via Iran. Although it was inaugurated last year, we have failed to attain our status.
In October, Iran's Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmoud Hojjati took part in 14th joint commission meeting which was held in Astana to discuss cooperation on health tourism, ecotourism and tourism, and arts and crafts.
Direct Tehran-Almaty flights twice a week provides a good opportunity for businessmen of the two countries.
In your opinion what are the obstacles to developing trade between the two countries?
Right now the issuance of visas for Iranian businessmen is tough. They have to enter the country on tourist visa or they have to set up a company in Kazakhstan. Iran has expressed its readiness to issue visas at the airport for them. We expect that Iranian businessmen will be able to obtain visas with an introduction letter from the joint council.
Another obstacle is money transaction. The two sides want to conduct direct transactions between the two countries and we hope that in the post-JCPOA era these problems will be solved at the earliest.