Eurasian Economic Commission Minister for Customs Cooperation Eldar Alisherov held a meeting with Iranian Deputy Economy Minister Mohammad Rezvanifar in Tehran, the press service said.
"The two sides noted keen interest in developing customs cooperation between the EEU member states and Iran, especially for broadening trade in furtherance of the interim agreement of May 17, 2018, and the future free trade agreement,” Interfax reported on May 3.
"The meeting addressed practical aspects of the implementation of the interim agreement [confirmation of the origin of imported goods, determination of customs value and administrative cooperation], ways of further development of customs infrastructure, including the North-South transportation corridor and the possibility of forming a common customs transit system of the union and a third party," the press service said.
Iran and EEU emphasized the prospect of signing a protocol between central customs authorities of the EEU member states and the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration on the procedure of electronic information exchange, it said.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has historically been a significant partner of EEU member states, interaction with which we attach particular importance to. Iran's role in the union's trade and economic ties has been growing steadily … and it is the task of customs services to maximize facilitation of trade between our countries while exercising a proper level of customs control," Alisherov said.
"Mohammad Rezvanifar underlined the role of EEU in development of international economic cooperation and assumed that trade turnover between Iran and the union member states would more than double [to $10 billion per year] once the free trade agreement is signed," the press service said.
Iran traded 6.37 million tons of goods (excluding crude oil) worth $3.25 billion with the Eurasian Economic Union’s member states in the fiscal 2022-23, registering a 51.44% and 42.27% drop in terms of weight and value respectively compared to the year before, latest data released by the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration show.
Russia was the main trade partner among EEU members during the period with 4.04 million tons worth $2.32 billion of exchanged goods. It was followed by Armenia with 1.47 million tons worth $478,274 and Kazakhstan with 750,955 tons worth $320,145.
Iran’s exports to EEU stood at 3.44 million tons worth $1.48 billion, registering a 24.32% and 27.2% rise in terms of weight and value respectively.
Russia with 1.41 million tons (up 24.52%) worth $743.88 million (up 27.45%), Armenia with 1.46 million tons (up 39.98%) worth $464.16 million (up 53.52%) and Kazakhstan with 475,615 tons (down 8.11%) worth $195.34 million (up 3.42%) were top export destinations.
Imports hit 2.93 million tons worth $1.76 billion to register a 71.73% and 60.45% decline in weight and value respectively.
Russia was also the main exporter to Iran with 2.62 million tons (down 71.16%) worth $1.57 billion (down 61.07%). It was followed by Armenia with 275,340 tons (down 77.79%) worth $124.8 million (down 67.09%) and Belarus with 17,974 tons (up 93.68%) worth $43.66 million (up 52.61%).
Iran and the Eurasian bloc signed a memorandum on free trade on Jan. 19, 2022, in a ceremony held in Tehran at the International Exhibition Center.
The document was signed by the then head of Iran's Trade Promotion Organization, Alireza Peymanpak, and EEU Trade Commissioner Andrey Slepnev, IRNA reported.
“The agreement will come into force after its formal approval by the governments of member states by mid-1402 [fiscal 2023-24],” he added.
According to the ex-TPO chief, a list of traded goods was discussed in the final talks, based on which 90% of the traded commodities have been placed on the “green” list while 10% were designated as “prohibited”.
The “green” list refers to goods traded by the two sides at zero customs tariffs.
He noted that the signed documents will be approved by EEU states by next month.
Peymanpak believes that with the operationalization of the Iran-EEU free trade deal, the annual bilateral trade will exceed $10 billion in three years.
Slepnev said he expects the free trade agreement between Iran and the economic union to be signed soon.
"We held very important negotiations to settle a number of important issues. We are confident that the agreement will be signed in the near future," he told Sputnik.
The Russian official indicated that EEU and Iran are seeking to scrap most tariffs and launch joint projects in such spheres as transport, industry, food production and finance, pointing out that this will potentially create jobs in both Iran and EEU, and advance technological innovation.
In the same context, the Iranian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Slepnev met with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy Mehdi Safari. It cited Slepnev as saying that the trade pact would hopefully be finalized during his trip to Iran.
According to the Foreign Ministry, Safari described the potential free trade zone involving Iran, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as "a turning point in the expansion of ties" and proposed creating rail, road and maritime transport corridors among the six countries to streamline trade in industrial and agricultural goods.
EEU and Iran have agreed upon virtually all issues in their negotiations on a free trade area, and only a few issues related to the agricultural sector have to be cleared, the Eurasian Economic Commission's trade unit said following Slepnev's visit to Tehran, Interfax reported.
"The main purpose of the visit was to consider key aspects of negotiations on concluding a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran at the level of delegation heads. The parties reviewed modalities of the understanding needed for finalizing the negotiations and signing an agreement. All issues have been agreed upon, except for mutual access to the market of certain categories of agrarian produce, on which they agreed to continue discussions," it said.
"The prospect of developing long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation in the transport, industry, agriculture, food security and other fields is impressive. A future agreement will help put a solid contractual foundation under these plans," the statement quoted Slepnev as saying.
Iran and EEU had signed a three-year provisional agreement in Astana, Kazakhstan, on May 17, 2018, for the bloc to welcome Iran into EEU.
The arrangement, which has lowered or abolished customs duties, is the first step toward implementing free trade between Iran and the five members of the union.
Noting that the two sides currently exchange goods based on a preferential trade agreement, Industries Ministry’s Spokesman Omid Qalibaf recently said EEU has granted tariff concessions to 500 Iranian commodities while Iran reciprocated with 400.
Asked about the impact of Iran’s import bans on EEU trade deal, he said the ban will not be applied to imports from the Eurasian bloc.
“The prohibition on the import of certain types of goods like historical relics, pork, etc. continue to be enforced, but restrictions on imports implemented to maintain foreign exchange reserves will not be applied,” he was quoted as saying by IRIB News.
There is a long list of products in Iran whose imports have been banned for many years.
According to the deputy head of Iran’s Headquarters to Combat Smuggling of Goods and Foreign Exchange, Mostafa Pour-Kazem Shayesteh, the import of more than 2,000 types of goods is prohibited.
The Iranian government aims to economize on its foreign currency reserves by applying import restrictions.
Iran and EEU have finalized negotiations on free trade of more than 7,500 types of commodities, the head of Iranian delegation negotiating with the Eurasian bloc said earlier.
“Over the past two years, we have held around 30 rounds of negotiations with representatives of the Eurasian side — some face to face and others online. In the end, we agreed on a 150-page deal, which is the most comprehensive trade agreement [Iran has had],” Mirhadi Seyyedi was also quoted as saying by Tasnim News Agency.
According to the official, Iran’s trade with EEU is mostly focused on agricultural products.
“Our imports mostly constitute cereals and oilseeds. In return, Iran exports apple, vegetable and greenhouse crops at zero tariffs,” he said.
“EEU has agreed to include about 95% of its traded goods in the agreement. That is almost all types of goods exchanged between the two sides, except for those we are reluctant to import for some reasons, such as agricultural machinery or dairy products.”
Seyyedi noted that since the signing of the preferential trade deal in 2018, bilateral trade has doubled between Iran and EEU from about $2.5 billion to $5 billion a year.
“Never before have we had an agreement as inclusive as this [the prospective free trade deal with EEU]. Clearly, when the provisional agreement is upgraded to a free trade treaty, out foreign trade will get a considerable boost,” he said.
EEU is an economic union of some post-Soviet states located in Eurasia. The Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union was signed on May 24, 2014, by the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and came into force on Jan. 1, 2015. Treaties aiming for Armenia's and Kyrgyzstan's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union were signed on Oct. 9 and Dec. 23, 2014, respectively. Armenia's accession treaty came into force on Jan. 2, 2015. Kyrgyzstan's accession treaty came into effect on Aug. 6, 2015. Kyrgyzstan participated in EEU from the day of its establishment as an acceding state.
The union has an integrated single market of 184 million people and a gross domestic product of over $1.9 trillion. It encourages the free movement of goods and services, and exercises common policies in the fields of transportation, industry, agriculture, energy, foreign trade and investment, customs, technical regulation, competition and antitrust regulation.