TEHRAN – After the historic nuclear deal was penned five years ago, many Iranians pictured a bright, promising future full of business opportunities. But today, those dreams lie in tatters due to the crippling effects of United States sanctions that were reimposed two years ago.
Iran was isolated from the rest of the international community for decades from 1979, when the Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and sanctions were hardened in 2006 when Tehran refused to stop enriching uranium despite international pressure.
The lifting of those sanctions with the signing of the nuclear accord in 2015 (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) between Iran and the US, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, China and Germany was a huge relief to the flagging Iranian economy, albeit a very short-lived one.
Five Iranian citizens from different sectors tell EFE their stories of the past five years, a lustrum initially marked by some highs and more recently by many lows due to the reimposition of sanctions in 2018 by the US.GOODBYE TO FOREIGN BRANDS
“The start of the deal was positive, but it lasted less than two years. Business was slowly starting to pick up when the US withdrawal led to a reversal,” says Milad Shekarjand, who works in home appliances.
Shekarjand describes how they thought they would be able to take orders and make international bank transfers more easily, but the “current situation is considerably worse than before the JCPOA.”
Financial transactions were always complicated due to Iran’s historic international isolation, but any progress made since the deal was undone by the US reimposition of sanctions, which block any bank transactions with Iran.
“The first thing to happen was two large South Korean companies, Samsung and LG, pulled out of the Iranian market. It was really hard because nearly 80 percent of the Iranian home appliances market relied on those two brands,” Shekarjand explains.
Even internal production was affected, because some of the parts and products come from abroad: “Now we can’t import, the market for home appliances is back to square one.”LOST INVESTMENTS
Alireza Homayounifar, designer, producer and exporter of carpets, opened an office and showroom in Germany at the end of 2015 to display his products to potential European customers.
“In 2016 and 2017, business was going great. But in 2018, we started having problems – we didn’t get any new clients and we weren’t able to service our older clients because we couldn’t make any international transfers,” Homayounifar tells EFE.
“The signing of the deal had meant our clients were more confident and encouraged to have more business with us,” but now the carpet exporter says the situation has regressed to before the JCPOA, making his investment to open an office in Germany “useless.”FROM EXPANSION TO LAYOFFS
The desks in the Tehran office of Shahram Abasi, a merchant who imported pumping equipment from Europe for the oil and gas sector, are empty.
“I had five employees here. The nuclear deal gave me and my European partner such confidence for the future that we came to the conclusion that we needed to make an investment in Iran,” he tells EFE.
His European partner hired a representative and they were even looking for land to open a product service center, but those plans were shelved when the sanctions returned.
“Unfortunately, after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, all of that was lost. We were forced to let go of three of our workers and our European partners also laid off the one employee they had in Iran,” Abasi says.
Several European companies had been interested in the lucrative Iranian energy market, as the country sits on one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas.
But with the reimposition of sanctions in November 2018, and despite the European Union setting up “blocking statutes” to protect its companies, the majority have left Iran.LOW SALES, HIGH PRICES
Peiman Arashgozin, who works in real estate in Tehran, describes how apartment sales have fallen sharply as prices have continued to rise due to the devaluation of the Iranian Rial.
“For the apartment that I sold last year for 300 million rials per square meter, this year they are asking for 700 million; with the constant changes in prices of foreign currency, there are hardly any sales.”
Arashgozin admits that he is “under huge economic pressure” that has forced him to throw out his plans to build a home on land owned by his father in the north of the country.
“When the nuclear deal was ruined, so were all of our plans, because suddenly the price of building material had doubled,” he says.SCAMS AND CLOSURES
In some cases, the sanctions have had an indirect effect. Mohsen Veydani, a watch importer, is one of the collateral victims of this crisis, which has had a major impact on his partner.
“He was really harmed by the sanctions, and the solution he came up with to his problem was to swindle me,” says Veydani.
He is now selling the last of his stock at very low prices in order to raise enough funds to be able to invest in another more reliable business, such as gold or construction.
“I failed because, on the one hand, my partner conned me, and on the other, due to the current economic situation in the country, watches are a luxury product and sales have plummeted. People aren’t thinking about buying watches,” he says.