Singapore firms excited about Iran prospects

Singapore firms excited about Iran prospects

Singapore firms are excited at the prospect of doing business in Iran, now that international sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation have been lifted.

The oil-rich nation of 80 million people represents a huge untapped market for companies across the business spectrum, from energy to transport and consumer goods.

Mr Jimmy Leong of Leung Kai Fook Medical Company said he is very interested in making a play for Iran.

His firm's signature product - the Axe-brand medicated oil - is very popular in the Middle East, he said.

"I've agents in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman," added Mr Leong, the business development manager of the family business.

He sells more than 30 cargo containers of the bottled medicated oil, or around 18 million bottles, to Dubai alone every year.

"This is a turning point in Iran, and (the lifting of the sanctions) is good news for us," he said.

Mr Leong is in talks with a potential business partner to be his distributor or agent there. And earlier in the year, his agent in Dubai also expressed interest in representing him in Iran.

Although he is not unfamiliar with Iran, having visited the Islamic republic for the first time in 1993 to take part in the Teheran international trade fair, he was still unprepared for what he saw on his most recent trip last year.

"I was very surprised to see that the country was doing so well despite the sanctions," he said.

"There are nice condominiums and beautiful concept restaurants in Teheran."

Mr Leong took part in a mission organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) in January last year, and he intends to go back, for a fifth time, with the SBF next month.

SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit said more than 65 companies have made inquiries about this upcoming mission.

The increased optimism and interest from the local business community in getting a first-hand update of the market has prompted the chamber to organise the trip again this year.

Many local businesses are also keen to re-establish old contacts and to make new ones, he said.

While the members of the upcoming delegation are likely to be from various industries, he expects more than 60 per cent to come from the oil and gas, petrochemical, marine transport and logistics industries.

IE Singapore's group director for Middle East and Africa, Mr G. Jayakrishnan, said it has also been active in building its network of contacts with the Iranian government and private sector over the last year in anticipation of the lifting of the sanctions.

Singapore companies from sectors such as oil and gas, consumer goods, tourism and hospitality, environmental solutions and technology, have approached the government agency for help to enter the Iranian market.

Iran has a significant energy sector, given that it has the world's second-largest gas reserves, fourth-largest oil reserves and major rare earth deposits.

But since sanctions were imposed in 2012, the sector has been hampered by under-investment and a shortage of the latest technology, so companies will be on the lookout for investments, products and services that can upgrade their capabilities, said Mr Jayakrishnan.

"Singapore firms in the onshore and offshore oil and gas industries would possess good value propositions," he added.

Mr Jayakrishnan noted that foreign companies have been visiting and engaging the Iranian market in anticipation of the lifting of sanctions over the past year.

"The pace of foreign investment and business activity will accelerate as Iran re-integrates into the global economy. But this also means competition will intensify," he said.

"Iranian banks that were delisted from the sanctions list will soon be reconnected to Swift (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), thus making it easier for foreign banks to transact with their Iranian counterparts and facilitate foreign trade and investment with Iran."

This is what Mr Mohammed Mehdi, an exporter mainly of commodities and consumer goods, is eagerly waiting for.

He has been approached by some Iranian companies to quote for old construction machinery from Singapore.

"They like the pricing, but we need to see how we will get paid," said Mr Mehdi.

"Until the banking system is up, nothing will move. So we're all waiting for the banking channels to open up."

This article was first published on February 2, 2016.
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