Following the increase in the US sanctions and under the current circumstances, the I. R. Iran is working to create an environment to continue trades through INSTEX, established by France, Germany and the UK – better known as E3, by enhancing cooperation with countries like Portugal. The Portuguese Ambassador does support INSTEX and stresses that his country’s authorities are seeing to the matter to determine if Portugal can be a shareholder of this financial mechanism or not.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with João Côrte-Real,
Ambassador of Portugal to Iran
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
Where did you serve diplomatically before arriving in Iran?
My first post was in Vienna at the Portuguese Delegation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Subsequently, I was appointed as Consul to Belo Horizonte (in Brazil), Consul-general in Seville (Spain), Deputy Head of Mission in Maputo (Mozambique) and Ambassador in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo).
What are your agenda and priorities as the Portuguese Ambassador to Iran?
The diplomatic relations between Portugal and Iran date back to the early 16th Century. (The Safavid Dynasty). In 1513, Portuguese King D. Manuel I appointed his first Ambassador to Iran, Miguel Ferreira, who presented his Credentials to Shah Ismail.
During that period Portugal was a naval power. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive by sea to Persia. Our historic presence in that period is still visible in some fortresses built by the Portuguese, namely in Hormuz. With more than 500 years of diplomatic relations, we have established a long-lasting relationship with Iran.
My agenda and priorities as a Portuguese Ambassador to Iran are clear: to work closely with Iranian authorities, civil society and academia to strengthen our relations, in the political, economic and cultural fields. We should build on a major asset that we share with Iran: the greatness of the people of the two countries, the way they easily interact, along with the real interest they display for each other’s culture and way of life. In this context there are indeed a number of avenues to explore with a view to show the realities of the two countries and their identities. Promoting cultural events in the fields of the visual arts and music are entirely relevant in this context.
Portugal participated in the European Film Week 2019, from 8th until 17th June. The Portuguese Film “Pilgrimage”, directed by João Botelho was exhibited in eight cities across Iran.
How are the banking relations between Iran and Portugal now?
Until recently we had a few banks engaged in supporting trade operations with Iran. As in other EU countries, those more exposed to the US market, decided to review their policy in order to avoid being affected by the US secondary sanctions. Banks in Portugal are private and Portuguese authorities cannot interfere in their policy and decision making.
How effective have Trump’s policy and withdrawal from the JCPOA been on the relations between Iran and Portugal?
We regret this decision by the US Administration. Portugal considers JCPOA as a landmark agreement with huge and positive implications regarding the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and regional security.
The impact of this decision resulted mostly in a psychological effect. We have a number of Small and Medium Size companies (SMS) that continue to show interest in doing trade and explore opportunities in this market. In the medium-term, SMS companies from Portugal and other EU countries can, under the current circumstances, become more relevant in this market. To a certain extent, they could offset some of the difficulties created by the winding down of larger EU companies. SMS companies which are more flexible and adapt faster and more easily to new conditions can play a positive role in cooperating, side by side, with Iranian companies on common projects with mutual benefits.
Has the EU managed to come up with an operationally practical to save the JCPOA?
As a member of the EU, Portugal has participated in the common endeavour to offset obstacles created by the sanctions imposed on Iran by one country. Sanction-lifting is an essential part of the JCPOA and Iran is entitled to benefit from the economic dividends arising from the nuclear deal. By the same token, it is imperative that Iran continues to abide by its commitments regarding its nuclear program.
Keeping financial channels open with Iran is important for safeguarding the legitimate interests of Iran. In this context we welcome the initiatives taken by the EU to keep the economic benefits of the nuclear deal for Iran. The update of the EU’s “Blocking Statute” and the decision of the European Investment Bank to maintain Iran on its list of electable countries for financing operations are tangible measures taken by the EU.
We also welcome other initiatives, namely the Special Purpose Vehicle /INSTEX, which has been set up by the E3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) and that came into force last January. It is an important instrument in support of trade exchanges. This public entity will have an important role to play in securing payments, thus allowing companies to continue trading with Iran.
My authorities are considering the possibility of Portugal becoming a shareholder of INSTEX. Proper consideration will be given to initiatives to sensitize Portuguese banks to also engage with INSTEX, thus easing trade exchanges between Portugal and Iran.
The main objective of all these measures is clear: to create better conditions for the economic dividends arising from the JCPOA, allowing them to be directly felt by the Iranian people and business community.
What economic cooperation can Iran and Portugal have under the current year?
We have a number of opportunities. Small and Medium Sized Portuguese companies have know-how and technological state of the art capabilities in several sectors, namely, renewable energy, supply and management of water, agriculture, infrastructures and transport. We have recently organized, in Lisbon, a Seminar on pharmaceutical cooperation with a number of Iranian companies. It was a successful event and a clear indication that both parties can benefit in cooperating in this and other sectors.
Portugal is also a member of the Community of the Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), a Community based on our common language – Portuguese. With 250 million native speakers, Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world. Angola, Brazil, Mozambique, Cabo-Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe and East-Timor are members of the CPLP.
Portuguese companies which have knowledge and experience in these markets can be valuable in establishing trilateral cooperation between companies from Portugal, Iran and those countries.
What estimate is there for the trade value between Iran and Portugal this year?
The reinstatement of unilateral US secondary sanctions on Iran has created uncertainty among international economical operators. Iran has reacted and taken a number of measures to protect its economy. A new policy has been adopted, with a view to substitute the import of foreign goods and services by local production. Fund repatriation for sales and earnings has become more difficult since 2018, due to delays in converting Iranian Rial to Forex through the Central Bank of Iran. In light of these new circumstances, there is a need to adapt to a new economic environment and create a more favourable business climate. INSTEX, which is in a preliminary stage should be developed.
Trade between the two countries is far from the capabilities of both economies. Increasing trade is a common objective, but it is equally important to identify areas where we can cooperate, and sectors in which companies of both countries have complementary advantages. Identifying investment opportunities is also relevant for strengthening our economic relations. This requires efforts from the Governments, but also from the civil society. At the governmental level it is important to further advance the negotiation of agreements, with a view to facilitate trade, protect investment and avoid double taxation. The initial work in this respect has been done and should be completed. However, the main work should be done by the business community, with the support of the Portuguese State Agency for Trade and Investment (AICEP), the relevant Iranian entities and the Chambers of Commerce of the two countries.
What strategies do the two countries’ officials have to further enhance scientific an academic collaboration
Scientific and Academic collaboration are among our top priorities for bilateral relations. Cooperation Agreements and MoUs have been signed in these domains by the respective Governments of Portugal and Iran. The same goes for a number of Universities of the two countries. MoUs among Portuguese and Iranian Universities have the common objective of developing academic and cultural interchanges, through mutual assistance in the areas of education and research. Joint research activities (including exchange of Faculty members and research students), participation in Seminars and academic meetings, special short-term academic programmes and exchange of students are commonly tackled in those MoUs.
The majority of Portuguese Universities share the objectives of supporting innovation value chain, by fostering the transfer of knowledge and reinforcing the bond between University and business. Most of them have enrolled foreign students in Master’s and Doctorate degrees.
There are approximately 400 Iranian students enrolled in Portuguese Universities, most of them in Master’s and Doctorate courses. Among the foreign community of students in Portugal, they are the ones with the highest scientific and technical preparation.