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Iran's Exports, Imports Decline, With U.S. Trade Lowest Since 2000

In this Aug. 10, 2015 file photo, Iranian merchants wait for customers at a carpet shop in Tehran's old, main bazaar, Iran.
In this Aug. 10, 2015 file photo, Iranian merchants wait for customers at a carpet shop in Tehran's old, main bazaar, Iran.

Iran's trade generally declined in the first two months of 2019, largely due to less oil exports and a substantial reduction in imports, due to its ongoing economic crisis.

Iran’s exports to U.S. reached zero during January 2019, while its imports from the United States plunged to $4.5 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, released March 28.

The monthly trade turnover between the two countries stood at the lowest level since 2000.

U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018 and imposed sanctions on Iran in the second half of the year. During mid-2018, Iran’s imports from U.S. soared, but declined in December.

In total, U.S. exported $440.5 million and imported $67.9 million from Islamic Republic in 2018.

Iran’s exports mostly include Persian carpets, dried fruit, pistachios. It imports mostly medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural products from the United States.

Washington imposed sanctions on imports of Persian carpets from Iran in July 2018.

The decline in Iran’s imports from most countries is due to its economic crisis, which began more than a year ago, resulting in a sharp devaluation of its currency. This means Iranians cannot afford to buy as much from the rest of the world.

Iran’s trade during post-sanctions era

U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil exports in November 2018, but extended waivers to eight friendly countries to continue oil purchases from Iran in restricted quantities. Only China, India, South Korea, Japan and Turkey used the waivers. Italy, Greece and Taiwan didn’t import any Iranian oil despite partial exemptions from sanctions.

Iran’s crude oil exports have halved to 1.1 mb/d since May 2018.

The official statistics of Iran’s oil clients show very sharp fluctuations in trade with Iran, not only in imports, but sometimes even in exports to Islamic Republic.


China is Iran’s biggest trading partner and oil client.

According to its custom statistics, the country’s exports to Iran declined by 65% year-on-year in January-February 2019 to $428 million, while its imports from Islamic Republic also declined 34% to $2.32 billion.


India is Iran’s second oil client after China.

The latest statistics of the Indian Economy Ministry indicates that its imports from Iran declined 30% year-on-year to $718 million in January 2019, but its exports increased by 64% to $332 million.

Iran imports mostly agriculture and food products from India, including rice, tea, etc.

South Korea

South Korea exported only $34 million and imported $580 million from Iran during January 2019, according to its customs statistics. The report didn’t elaborate year-on-year change, but South Korea’s monthly exports to Iran during 2018 was $190 million and its imports $330 million.

However, South Korea’s both imports and exports to Iran halved in 2018, compared to 2017 level. This means the reimposition of U.S. sanctions already had their impact in 2018.


Japan comes fourth as an Iranian oil client in Asia. Figures released by its customs administration show only a little more than $4 million exports to Iran during January-February 2019, while the value was $83.3 million during the same period of last year. Japan’s imports from Iran also declined from $668mn to $134 million during the same period.


Iran’s neighbor, Turkey, is the biggest West Asia oil importer, which has repeatedly insisted on boosting relations with Iran despite U.S. sanctions.

However, according to Turkey Statistics Center, its exports to Iran declined 27% year-on-year to $191 million in January 2019, and its imports from Iran decreased by 28% to $485 million.