“Consulting companies are reviving old contacts, lots of signs that companies are pre-positioning themselves. One sign of the degree of interest is that it’s impossible to get a hotel room these days in Tehran,” said Bijan Khajepour, an Iranian businessman, who is managing partner of the Vienna-based Atieh International consultancy.
At the head of the queue have been oil and gas companies, but there are other markets in Iran with enormous potential because the country has been behind a wall of sanctions for so long. There will, for example, be intense competition between Airbus and Boeing to supply parts and planes for Iran’s ageing fleet.
“There have already been ongoing discussions between Iranian aviation officials and the two global aerospace giants,” Amir Ali Handjani, an Iranian-American energy executive, said. “Those discussions have happened with the approval of Europeans and Americans. They recognise how important an issue this is for Iranians, who have some of the oldest passenger planes in the world.”
The market for cars and lorries used to be the 10th largest in the world, and is attracting keen attention from Peugeot, which used to be a dominant player in Iran, as well as Renault and General Motors.
Khajepour said steel and aluminium manufacturers were also likely to flood into the market, attracted by Iran’s combination of cheap gas and warm-water ports.
However, the speed at which trade and investment opportunities open up will depend on how fast banking arrangements can be restored. Even if some financial sanctions are lifted, different banks will make their own judgments about when it is safe to start doing business with their Iranian counterparts. Swiss banks are already offering themselves as fast-track alternatives to banks within the EU, which will have to wait for the formal lifting of sanctions.
BP and other oil companies were thrown out of Iran when the Tehran government announced it was nationalising the oil industry. The British company regained partial access only to be removed a second time in 1979 – although its geological data and maps apparently remain intact.