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Iranians prepare for life after sanctions

iranTEHRAN: For book lovers at a recent exhibition in Tehran the “Buy Direct From Amazon” poster summed up their plight: if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Iranian consumers, unlike millions who use the US online retail giant’s global websites every day, cannot click and buy. Besides lacking credit cards, they are sealed off from international banking because of sanctions. But if their pockets are deep enough, there is another way: Iranian middlemen, who profit from smuggling in a black market of highly desirable goods. The removal of sanctions under Iran’s nuclear deal with the West is bad news for them, but they’ve long had it good. At the Tehran Book Fair it wasn’t Amazon that was advertising but a local firm offering the latest English-language best-sellers-bought and sold on at around three times the original online price.

The same applies to other Western goods, be it smartphones, cosmetics or clothes. Traders, lacking open competition, jack up prices and cash in on demand. For Mohammad Gholi Yousefi, an economics professor at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, the nuclear agreement can only be positive, bringing better deals and more choice. “The economy is like a phone line and the more countries you have a connection with, the better trade can be,” he said. “If goods are imported freely, we can have constructive relationships with the manufacturing countries in Europe or America and get rid of the middlemen.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made the same point when pushing for a nuclear deal, saying in April that sanctions- busters operating in the black market “should now think about a new job.” A combination of UN, US and European measures imposed since 2006, dubbed by experts as the world’s most sophisticated sanctions regime, has frozen Iran out of the world’s formal economy. But with a population of 78 million, the country is seen as untapped. Since nuclear talks restarted in 2013, Western companies have visited Tehran in droves. Contractual tie-ups are now expected.

Young tech-savvy market
Iran already has online retailers, such as Digikala, and a domestic debit card system has shown the potential that can be unlocked when the barriers to international transactions come down. As sanctions end, Iran will also gain access to modern technology and equipment previously deemed off limits that could transform its oil sector, manufacturing and other industries. But for retailers it is the country’s young and technologically savvy population that has long-term potential - 56 percent are aged under 30 and most are avid users of the latest Western technology.— AFP

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This article was published on 17/07/2015