MTN gears up to get Iran cash back

CityPress - - Business - XOLANI MBANJWA xolani.mbanjwa@city­press.co.za

The growth of MTN’s oper­a­tions in Iran and the re­cent ship­ment of 13 tons of gold to that coun­try amid eco­nomic sanc­tions should be the first sign for South African busi­nesses of the re­lax­ation of sanc­tions by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, ac­cord­ing to economist Mike Schüssler.

Schüssler said the $1 bil­lion (R12.34 bil­lion) MTN will now be able to repa­tri­ate when sanc­tions are of­fi­cially lifted showed that do­ing busi­ness in Iran was prof­itable.

“There’s a lot more that will be go­ing South Africa’s way in terms of Iran, and there’s a lot of trade we can ex­pect be­tween the two coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to im­port­ing crude oil from Iran.

“Oil is our big­gest im­port item and, be­fore 2012, we used to im­port a lot of oil from Iran. A re­turn to that could lead to a de­crease in oil prices for South Africa,” he said.

His com­ments fol­lowed In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Maite Nkoana-Masha­bane’s state­ment this week that South Africa did not agree to the in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions be­cause it did not be­lieve Iran was de­vel­op­ing nu­clear ar­se­nals as part of its nu­clear pro­gramme.

The depart­ment of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and co­op­er­a­tion’s deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral of public diplo­macy, Clayson Monyela, said South Africa and Iran signed mul­ti­ple co­op­er­a­tion deals in May, which would see the coun­tries co­op­er­ate in many in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing min­ing tech­nol­ogy, agri­cul­ture, health, mar­itime and rail trans­porta­tion, as well as eco­nomic and tech­ni­cal oper­a­tions.

Agree­ments be­tween South Africa and Iran in­clude co­op­er­a­tion on min­ing tech­nol­ogy be­tween the Ira­nian Min­eral Pro­cess­ing Re­search Cen­tre and South Africa’s Mintek, the lead­ing provider of min­er­als pro­cess­ing and met­al­lur­gi­cal en­gi­neer­ing prod­ucts.

“Those were sanc­tions which we did not agree to as South Africa be­cause we’ve al­ways en­cour­aged South African busi­nesses to con­sider Iran for in­vest­ment.

“The lift­ing of sanc­tions is a break­through that will ben­e­fit both coun­tries,” said Monyela.

Sanc­tions had seen ex­ports to Iran fall­ing from R1.5 bil­lion in 2007 to R162 mil­lion in 2013.

Monyela could not shed more light on the 13 tons of gold, re­port­edly worth R6 bil­lion, that was shipped to Iran prior to the con­clu­sion of nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions on Iran, in Vi­enna.

“We were not in­volved in that mat­ter and know noth­ing about it,” said Monyela.

While MTN stuck it out in Iran, other in­vestors di­vested.

In 2013, petro­chem­i­cal gi­ant Sa­sol was one of a few com­pa­nies that di­vested, re­luc­tantly selling its 50% stake in Arya Sa­sol Poly­mer.

Sa­sol spokesper­son Alex An­der­son told City Press that although the com­pany used to im­port a lot of crude oil from Iran, it had no cur­rent plans to go back.

“We have no im­me­di­ate plans for Iran at the mo­ment. But it’s some­thing we will have to talk about,” he said.

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