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Speech: New markets, new opportunities: doing business with Iran


War Hero
Good morning everyone.

I’d like to start by thanking Lionel for inviting me to come and speak today.

It means a lot to me for 3 reasons.

First, because Iran offers all kinds of exciting and intriguing possibilities for British business.

Second, because I feel a slight connection with Iran – Javid is, after all, a Persian name.

I’m told that it means ‘eternal’, which is a good thing if you’re a politician who has got to be re-elected every 5 years!

And third, because I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to talk about something other than the EU referendum!

Twenty-five years ago and straight out of university, I suddenly found myself working in the New York HQ of Chase Manhattan Bank.

I’d only ever been on a school coach trip to Paris before that, and suddenly here I was – a Bristol boy working in the Big Apple.

The USA was actually quite a culture shock for me.

For starters they had more than 4 TV channels!

But since then work – first in finance and in then in government – has repeatedly taken me around the world.

I’ve been to plenty of familiar western places, but also lots of emerging markets and frontier economies too.

And if there’s one thing that’s taught me it’s that the familiar and the safe are all well and good.

But that if you really want to find new opportunities, you have to step outside your comfort zone.

A culture may be hard to get your head around, but the greater challenge brings with it greater rewards.

So if Britain is going to continue to thrive as a trading nation, we shouldn’t just engage with the easy and familiar trading partners.

Regardless of how June’s referendum goes, our future lies beyond the usual suspects and our traditional Anglophone allies.

We can’t afford to stick with what we know.

We have to secure new markets for British goods and services, and attract new sources of investment.

Which, of course, brings us to Iran.

Now I know that, just a few years ago, the idea that the UK and Iran could co-operate on anything, let alone trade, would have been seen as quite fanciful.

But the past is the past.

Economic sanctions have been lifted.

Our embassy has reopened.

And Iran’s nuclear programme is under international supervision.

The time is now right to build stronger commercial ties between our 2 nations.

Persia is of course the cradle of civilisation, the place where the modern world began.

The people there have been trading for centuries.

The bazaar at Tabriz, I’m told, dates back to at least the 13th century.

But more than that, modern Iran is home to an economy that some people believe will grow faster than China this year.

It’s home to a potential market of almost 80 million people.

And it’s home to an almost unlimited range of opportunities for British businesses.

Now I’ve already made sure that UK Trade and Investment, our export promotion agency, is providing support and assistance to British companies that want to do business in and with Iran.

They will be playing an important role in the months ahead, both here at home and in through our Tehran embassy.

UK Export Finance, our export credit agency, reintroduced cover to support exports to Iran the moment that sanctions were lifted.

And earlier this morning, it announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran’s export credit agency, the Export Guarantee Fund of Iran.

The 2 organisations have committed to promoting the financing of contracts and projects involving exports between our nations.

Now partnerships such as this will help British businesses seize the opportunities that economic re-engagement brings.

And it will give them the opportunity to play a part in realising Iran’s plans for rapid economic and infrastructure development.

But to really build those ties that bind, to really get to know a country, there’s no substitute for going there in person.

I visited Iran myself back in my Deutsche Bank days.

I took home a couple of beautiful paintings.

One of them still hangs on my wall, up in my bedroom.

But I also came back with a sense of Iran’s history and its potential.

Of the appetite that local traders have for doing business with the rest of the world.

So today I’m delighted to announce that I plan to personally take a UK trade mission to Iran later this year.

It will see some of our leading companies seeking out new opportunities across the country.

And it will give me the opportunity to talk face to face with Iranian officials and with Iranian business men and women, so we can remove some of the remaining barriers to trade between our countries.

Obviously not all of those barriers are located in Iran.

Even though many EU sanctions have been relaxed or lifted, there is still a certain reluctance to engage.

It’s particularly true in the financial sector, where multinational banks have to worry about regulations in a host of countries that they operate in.

And let me reassure everyone here that ministers and officials across Whitehall are working with their international counterparts to resolve these problems.

There remain areas where the UK and Iran disagree, of course, and areas where we would like to see change.

But stronger business links are not a sign that such issues are being ignored.

In fact it’s quite the opposite.

Trade and industry are part of the solution.

I want the UK and Iran to have the kind of relationship where you can discuss issues by being frank and open with each other.

And trade opens doors.

It provides a platform on which to build diplomatic relations.

It creates influence and leverage when it comes to negotiation.

And it builds a bulwark against political instability.

Last year our embassy in Iran reopened.

Last month, we received the first bilateral visit from an Iranian foreign minister in well over a decade.

Just 2 weeks ago, we started offering a full visa service out of our visa application centre in Tehran.

Relations between our 2 countries are thawing.

Suspicions are being dropped.

And the flow of people and ideas is beginning again.

I want British business to be at the forefront of this new wave.

I want the people of Iran to see for themselves what British industry looks like, and how it can make a very a real difference to their lives.

For a thousand years British traders have reached out around the world and travelled where others feared to tread.

As Iran opens up to the west, I want Britain in pole position.

And I will be doing everything I can as Business Secretary to make it so.

Thank you very much.

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