China Becomes Iran’s Largest Trade Partner

Iranian trade profits soaring as sanctions collapse

Oil refinery in Tehran, Iran / AP
February 25, 2014

China has emerged as Iran’s top trading partner, with non-oil trade hitting $13 billion over the past 10 months, according to Iranian media.

Iran’s exports to China rose by nearly 35 percent over the time period, with Iran exporting some $5.9 billion in non-oil-related goods, according to a report by Iran’s Customs.

Iranian imports from China topped $7 billion, according to the report, which provides further evidence that Iran’s economy has been on the rebound since it began engaging in talks with Western nations over its contested nuclear program.

China has long been Iran’s top crude oil client and has been accused of participating in a plot to smuggle the heavily sanctioned product out of Tehran. Chinese-Iranian oil deals topped $13 billion in the past months, according to the report.

Iran’s total non-oil exports topped $37 billion in total over the past 11 months, a 15 percent rise over the previous year, when sanctions were at their most stringent level. This included more than $550 million in trade with the United States, according to Iranian officials.

More than 23 percent of Iran’s non-oil exports went to China, while nearly 20 percent of China’s exports went to Tehran, according to the new report.

Iran’s top exports to China included "iron ore, methanol, propane, polyethylene, styrene, butane, ethylene-glycol, paraxylene, chrome stone, marble, oil and mineral seals, [and] purified cupper," according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Iran mainly imported from China "railroad and subway locomotives parts, oil and gas pipelines, LCD and LED modules, car parts, polystyrene, banana [sic], and cars," according to the report.

The White House declined comment when asked about Iran’s growing trade ties to China. The Commerce Department also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin said the growing economic ties between China and Iran are helping to revive the country’s economy.

"While many naysayers have opposed sanctions on the grounds that the Chinese and Russians would fill the gap left by America and Europe, it’s important to remember that Chinese trade wasn’t enough to prevent Iran’s economy from shrinking 5.4 percent in the year before Obama decided to bail out the Iranian economy," said Rubin, author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes.

"The extra $7 to $20 billion in the bank from sanctions relief and new investment, however, changes the situation," Rubin said. "How ironic, it is, that the only place Obama’s stimulus plan has worked has been in Iran."

Iranian oil exports have also been on the rise as the United States loosens sanctions on Iran under the interim nuclear agreement.

Exports of Iranian crude oil jumped to 1.32 million barrels, up from December’s high of 1.06 million barrels, according to data from the International Energy Agency.

International trade delegations have also been traveling to Tehran for meetings about increasing trade and business ties.

While this type of activity has long been illegal, the interim nuclear deal permits a limited amount of business dealings with Iran, including in its gold, oil, and petrochemical sectors.

Published under: China , Iran