Irans Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his South African counterpart Maite Nkoana-Mashabane exchange trade co-operation agreements. Picture: Abedin Taherkenareh
International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has addressed the Iranian business community in Tehran, calling Iran South Africa’s second home.
With South Africa’s business delegation to Iran now numbering 60 delegates, alongside 45 senior South African officials, it is the biggest South African delegation ever to visit that country.
“South Africans and Iranians share the same values, including those of non-alignment, independence and inclusive development,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.
“We are imploring both the South African and Iranian business communities to seize the moment and practically engage on business partnerships,” she noted in her opening remarks at the launch of the South Africa-Iran Business Forum.
“We are natural economic partners as we have diversified economies and strong manufacturing bases, and are a gateway to our respective continents.”
Iran is a gateway to central Asia, as well as to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, Iran considers South Africa an economic pivot on the continent.
“Africa is a priority for Iran, and South Africa is an important gateway to the continent of 250 million people,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has told the joint commission.
The South African business delegation have already been finalising deals with their counterparts and positioning themselves for when sanctions are lifted. In terms of oil, South Africa wants its foot in the door as companies like Chevron, BP and Total have been in Iran positioning themselves to secure oil blocs, some since 2013.
Gas is not part of the sanctions regime and South African business delegates are continuing to strengthen and expand their deals with Iran in the field of gas.
Last week, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson was in Iran pursuing South Africa’s energy interests. It is important that South Africa is proactive in Iran, as energy experts say that in the case of Angola, South Africa was slow off the mark, and most of Angola’s oil was secured by big players like the US, China and Japan.
Up until 2012, Iran was providing 40 percent of South Africa’s oil. With the imposition of sanctions, Saudi Arabia filled the gap. For the rest of its oil, South Africa imports 20 percent from Nigeria and 15 percent from Angola, and also has its own reserves.
While South Africa is eager to start importing Iranian oil again, under the current sanctions regime it is nearly impossible. Companies are not prepared to ship Iranian oil or cover the insurance, and South African banks are afraid to engage in any transactions involving Iranian oil.
The Americans sent a clear message to financial institutions around the world when they imposed a record fine on the grande dame of French banking, Paribas.
The French bank was slapped with a $8.9 billion (R107bn) fine for violating US sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba.
South African banks that want to do business with the US and the EU could face going bankrupt if they were to be fined for sanctions violations.
Key to South Africa’s ability to deepen its trade ties with Iran will be the finalisation of a nuclear deal by the P5+1, and the lifting of sanctions. During South Africa’s 11th Joint Commission with Iran 18 months ago, 90 documents were signed to improve co-operation and trade relations.
Independent Foreign Service