Sunday, 15 September, 2019

Former Iranian diplomat weighs up ‘Economic Diplomacy’

Over the past couple of weeks, Iranian high ranking officials have been the host of foreign statesmen and diplomats. One European delegation arrives and shortly before leaving, another delegation from Asia is in line to come. After the nuclear deal has been reached, diplomatic shuttle to Iran is still going on and it is expected that over the months to come the agreements signed in these shuttle will be executed. The European and Asian political and economic delegations coming to Iran seemingly for signing the nuclear deal between Iran and the West, are actually attempting to attain a good share of Iranian market, becoming trade and economic partners with Iran in different fields. The question, however, is that how the political and economic interactions can be linked? And how the best can be made?

Khabaronline, has had a discussion with Abdolreza Ghofrani, former senior Iranian diplomat and Deputy Permanent Representative to United Nations Economic and Social Committee for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). He, underlying the political and economic opportunities, has made suggestions to make the most of them. This is the excerpts of the discussions:

Q: Now that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded between Iran and 5+1, naturally the sanctions will be lifted. Certainly this will create extensive grounds for economic cooperation, trade exchanges and investments in different section of Iranian economy as well as economic booming. In your opinion how Iran can make the best of the new circumstances?

A:Thank you for having me here.At the outset I need to point out that the nuclear deal, or if you like agreeing upon the terms of nuclear deal  by both parties, has to be considered a great diplomatic breakthrough for our country .This ,once more, proved that diplomacy wins as usual and not the war and conflicts. Moreover, diplomacy always benefits either side. It is quite obvious that diplomacy can not only serve the interests of one side, and so, by diplomacy the legitimate right of Iran for having nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (which from the beginning has been the case) was recognized.

So in the absence of critical conditions, which were pretty unnecessary, the potentials, energy and resources of our country will be headed to further construction and economic growth. Hence it is for all of us to make the most of the new circumstances. At the very beginning of nuclear talks nearly two years ago, in a long detailed essay in domestic and foreign mass media, I underscored that with the talks going on and the probable conclusion a nuclear deal in sight, the economic diplomacy should be reactivated. This (economic diplomacy that serves the national interests) is not solely the job of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but all public and private agencies need to be involved in economic diplomacy  of course with the coordination of MFA.Undoubtedly, to achieve the goals the task of MFA is unavoidable and pretty significant. However, as I already said this is a collective and integrity mission of everybody of us. Twenty five years ago ,I do remember ,that an European ambassador said to his colleagues in Iran that he was a “tradesman diplomat”, in fact he actually did pointed specially to  economic relations and promoting the bilateral  trade  aiming at serving national and economic  interests of his own Country. Certainly there must have been a good coordination in his country among different agencies to attain that goal, and he, as the ambassador, has been assigned to fulfill   the policies of his government in the host country. In the present conditions and with the opportunities we do have, our envoys, of course with the coordination of other domestic agencies, can do the same job.

Q: What are the ways, in your opinion, to fulfill that goal?

A: Now, the international conditions, particularly in economic, trade and finance perspectives, are developing in a way that further provide Iran with opportunity for economic growth  and promoting economic relations  with all countries of the world  ,either being developed or developing. It is not only Iran that benefits but it will serve the interests of others too. It is worthy to note that in promoting economic relations particularly in bilateral ties there must be a sense of balance. In other words, to take something, every country should give something in return. Or if I want to put it better, the win - win game in economic relations is also unavoidable. We need to note that all countries of the world, either developed or developing, each has the economic relative advantage; in fact there is a mutual need for any country and this is what we have to take it for granted a global   economic principle. Let me to remind that Iran is one of the greatest countries in the Middle East as well as Persian Gulf. Vast territory, highly educated young population, efficient manpower, great capacities, rich natural resources and thousands years old of culture are among the remarkable features of our country. Moreover, economically Iran’s market is not limited to its borders. Because of its geostrategic and geo economic status, Iran has a fateful role in the M.E., Central Asia and most important of all the Persian Gulf. This is an undeniable fact, and the whole world is quite aware that for economic growth in the region our country does have a critical role. Having these facts in mind we need to take rational economic policies and make quite well measured plans to make the best of these situations.

Q: What is the first step to achieve this goal?

At the very beginning certainly the promoting bilateral relations with every country and particularly our neighbors and having good interaction with them, aimed at economic and trade growth tops the agenda and is unavoidable. Despite imposed unnecessary and illegitimate sanctions over the past decades, we have had sound and good economic relations with a group of countries and particularly our neighbors. Now with more rooms being available and lifting the sanctions, naturally there will be much more grounds to use added capacities and resources. Certainly we have to give priority to bilateral relations. We have witnessed that even before the nuclear deal be finalized, many groups of investors and financiers poured into Iran and this process now continues. Now Tehran is the center of activities of economic delegations from European and Asian countries. Over the past couple of months large delegations from Germany, Italy, France, Austria and South Korea have visited Iran for promotion of economic relations. Of course we do not have to lose sight of the point that now there is a competition among those countries for getting a larger share of Iranian market and naturally that is to our benefits. I recall that almost 20 years ago on a mission to some European countries I, as a member of Iranian delegation, had a discussion with the director of one of the prestigious export insurance institution. He told me that he had pointed to a European investment bank manager that unless we invest in other countries, including Iran, and cover our export insurance, we have to expect going bankrupt. Certainly, this is still the opinion of economic circles. I do not want to exaggerate, but this is  quite true. Granted, every one of these countries does have their own particular advantages and potentials that can be used. It is, therefore, up to economic and trade planners and experts of the country that given our religious, cultural, economic and sociology conditions decide how to use capacities serving our national interests. Fortunately since ever the 11th administration has taken office in Iran two years ago this has been the central point of its plans. But there remains a lot of work to be done. Given the existing global tight economic competitions and the open space for us, we have to use all others’ potentials and possibilities that serve our economic interests, and do not put all eggs in one basket.

Q: To what extent the regional cooperation can be used as a way or means to achieve that objective?

A: Regional cooperation has always been a useful device for advancing any country economic interests in a given area. It conspicuously has expedited to serve the interests of the member states of a regional arrangement. A brief study shows well that all across the world there have been several regional cooperation and arrangements with the participation of the countries of those regions; they have taken efficient steps and served, to some good extend, the interests of their members. We need to underscore the fact that the member countries of any regional arrangements can play a more influential and powerful role in global forums. Now we (Iran) are one of the constituents of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and this regional arrangement at the present have twelve members, having many common economic, trade customs and traditions interests; and most of important of all they are all Muslims. The relative advantages that all these countries do have can help them and are also the good supplementary to promote their shared economic benefits and serving their national interests simultaneously. Just look to all corners of the world and you see several regional arrangements. In South East Asia we have the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) which is a good example. In this regional setting there are ten member countries with different levels of power and capacity and given their relative advantages they have fair cooperation. Actually they have built- up a trade union. The movements of capitals, goods and manpower and declining tariffs for promoting trades are among the outstanding features of this regional organization. Or you have MEROSUR with seven members in Latin America. The member countries of this regional establishment, with good cooperation and economic coordination could have raised the quality and quantity level of their peoples’ lives. Certainly you can find other regional arrangements in four corners of the world and these are merely the examples I would like to give. Certainly we can do the same as they are doing.

Q: What about the cooperation within the international organizations and using their capabilities?

A: In the present world conditions, everything is spearheading to globalization or actually we cannot but say everything has been globalized. Naturally every country preserving its principles, believes and national interests is a part of this process and cannot be excluded. Our country, as a member of the world society, is not and cannot be an exception. But before elaborating on international organizations let me return to regional arrangements and giving some more details. Membership in regional organizations makes a good ground for more efficient and better activities in international forums to serve the best national interests. I already pointed to some regional arrangements. But now I want to talk about the biggest regional organization in the world, to which Iran has been a member for decades and in fact our country has been a constituent of this organization. That is United Nations Economic and Social Committee for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). This organization substituted “Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE).ECAFE was established on 1947 and only a few countries of the region were the members to it. With the economic and international developments, the name of this commission was changed to UNESCAP on 1974 and the latter replaced ECAFE.Now nearly seventy countries are the members, of course including Iran, of this organization. I can not to go into details of this establishment in the short time we have. Generally speaking, I need to say that all member countries of this big regional organization can use the capacities and possibilities UNESCAP in different fields and in particular economy. Interestingly, big countries  such as China, Russia and Japan ( and France and Britain though they are not in the region ) are among the member states. The use of possibilities and capabilities of UNESCAP have been and are constructive and effective. The member countries can take stock of UNESCAP expertise and financial resources of some other members in economic, trade, industrial, banking, social fields thus having a mutual assistance. It of course worthy to note though the headquarters of UNESCAP is in Bangkok (Thailand) it should not be considered a regional organization belongs to South East Asian countries. Because, given the rapid international changes in all areas, the time has now come that this organization should look west and particularly to Iran as a great country in the western Asia. It was an issue that a couple years ago in a paper I discussed and am still at the conviction that this is a reality that should not be ignored on the part of ESCAP. We need to be more proactive in ESCAP and more Iranian experts should be recruited by this establishment .I even have to go further suggesting that as we do have experienced and skilled diplomats it is pretty necessary that in the future the executive secretary of ESCAP ,who is Undersecretary of United Nations must be chosen from among our diplomats. The issue of ESCAP needs a full detailed discussion in the future. However, generally we have to recall that articles of association of UNESCAP has assumed an important job and that is “assisting the member states to face global dilemmas( albeit economic woes )and attempt to resolving them. Usually   those problems will be debated in international forum and most important of all United Nations and its affiliated agencies.

Q: What kind of assistance and capabilities international organizations can provide their member countries in different areas and particularly in economic field that we attach more importance?

A: In present international conditions firstly the membership in international organization and most important of all United Nations is imperative and unavoidable. Since ever seventy years ago that United Nations was established, given the global dilemmas, wars and economic crises, United Nations and its affiliated organs have had the most roles to resolving them. During the long period this global forum has gained marvelous experiences and information and naturally all members can take stock of this information and experiences to resolve their crises and economic dilemmas. You can see now that even the big powers during the nuclear talks that led to JOCAP put this document and its appendixes in the context of 3122 Resolution of UN Security Council and adopted it. This resolution has the power of guarantee of execution. In other areas such as economic, trade and finance (World Bank and International Monetary Fund and Economic and Social Commission) can be of great help for economic growth of the member states. So, in brief, I have to point out that the memberships in all these organizations are unavoidable. Of course though the presence is inevitable but being proactive is the must. Well measured studies must be done to know as to how we can take advantage of the possibilities and capacities of these organizations to help achieving our economic, trading and eventually our best national interests. Though there may be some flaws and drawbacks, I need to quote Dr.Paul Michel Kennedy’s prized book “The Parliament of the Man” as saying that:” Notwithstanding its flaws and defects, unless UN did exist, undoubtedly the world now was not a safe place to live and perhaps the people of the glob were not better off. “

Q: From which point of view Iran’ efforts to join World Trade Organization (WTO) need to be considered?

A: We have to focus special attention to acceding to WTO which is quite necessary. Unfortunately, this fully economic organization, and contrary to its 150 member states’ views, has sometimes turned into a scene of political quarrels and settlements. It is now seventeen year that Iran has tabled its application for membership to WTO and even submitted the trade regime document which is one of the most important requirements for acceding to this organization. No action whatsoever has so far taken. Usually, the time span for considering the application for membership does not exceed 5 or 7 years. However because of United States pressures during the past decades and unfair and illegitimate sanctions imposed on Iran, the application has not been discussed by the working group of WTO.So it is quite imperative that Iran’s application be quickly processed to indemnify this long irrational and unnecessary delay .Even it sounds logic that the time span for processing Iran’s application be lessened since the time is running short and global economic changes are rapid. Certainly Iran’s membership in WTO will motivate our country to have extensive presence and be far more active in international trade arena and eventually economic growth that this will serve the best national interests.

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