The economy of Iran has been troubled by the sanctions imposed by the US which particularly affected its oil and gas sector. Therefore, the country leverages its non-oil commercial exchanges with its neighbours from the Arab world. During the last Iranian year that ended 19 March 2020, the trade balance between Iran and eight Arab countries reached USD 21.5 billion. Four of these countries are the GCC members: UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait, while the other four countries are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
The Director-General of Iran's Trade Promotion Organisation (TPO)’s Office for Arabian and African countries, Farzad Piltan, said that Iran exported about USD 12.5 billion worth of commodities to the eight countries last year, while it imported about USD 9 billion. During this period Iraq was Iran’s main export partner. In terms of imports, the UAE has been the main import partner among the eight countries with USD 8.7 billion worth of exports to Iran, followed by Oman, Iraq, and Jordan with USD 167 million, USD 131 million, and USD 21 million of imports respectively.
According to Iran’s trade data for the previous year, the UAE ranked second among Iran's top trade partners and Iraq was the fourth while Oman was ranked 18th, Qatar 34th, Kuwait 39th, Syria 41st, and Lebanon 62nd and Jordan 63rd. In general, Iran exported over USD 5.8 billion worth of agricultural and foodstuff products to the world in the previous Iranian calendar year. Watermelons, apples, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and shallots were the top five exported products. Furthermore, Iran’s steel exports were 25% higher than in the previous year.
IRNA reported the Head of Iran’s Customs Administration, Mehdi Mir-Ashrafi, as saying that despite the US sanctions Iran managed to export commodities to 128 countries in the past Iranian calendar year while importing from 112 trade partners. He said that Asian countries account for over 70 per cent of Iran’s foreign trade and Europe is the country’s second-biggest trade partner. In particular, reports say Iran exported non-oil commodities to 40 European countries, 21 Asian countries, 28 African countries, and 12 American countries, while importing from 41 European countries, 31 Asian countries, 12 American countries, and 11 countries in Africa.
Iran’s total foreign trade in the past year was about USD 85.11 billion. Following a successful year of expanding the pace and volume of its trade worldwide, Iran hopes to further strengthen its existing international trade relationships and build new ones. However, these figures may not sustain or grow this year as the coronavirus pandemic impacts both domestic production and international trade. This would particularly be true to Iran which has been one of the world’s worst-hit countries by the outbreak and had the second largest number of confirmed cases among OIC countries.