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Iran's Trade Balance With Asian Partners Negative For First Time

Workers watch a ship as it sails during an inauguration ceremony of new equipment and infrastructure at Shahid Beheshti Port in the southeastern Iranian coastal city of Chabahar, on the Gulf of Oman, on February 25, 2019.

Official data published by Turkey and Iran's other Asian economic partners indicate that trade between Iran and these countries dropped significantly in the first quarter of 2020 with the balance going into negative for Iran for the first time in recent history.

The international Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that Iran's total oil, non-oil and service exports in 2020 will drop by 20% to $46 billion with imports of around $64 billion compared with the previous year. Iran’s exports were close to $110 billion in 2017, a year before the United States reintroduced sanctions against Iran.

The figures published by Iran's trade partners, however, suggest that the IMF forecast is probably too optimistic.

According to the latest report of Turkey Statistics Agency published on May 4, Iranian exports to Turkey dropped by more than six-fold to $282 million for the first quarter of 2020 in comparison with the same period in 2019. Turkey has only imported $33 million worth of commodities from Iran in March which indicates a 19-fold drop in comparison to the same month in 2019. Both countries are stricken with the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey's exports to Iran in the first quarter of 2020 has almost dropped by 50% to $451 million and by more than six-fold to $47 million in March in comparison with March 2019.

Figures published by Japan Customs also indicate that Iran has only exported $14 million worth of commodities to Japan, twenty-seven times less than the first quarter of 2019 but Japanese exports to Iran have doubled in the same period amounting to $19 million.

South Korean Customs statistics indicate exports worth $47 million to Iran in the first quarter of 2020 which is one sixth of the exports to Iran in the first quarter of 2019. During the same period South Korea's imports from Iran amounted only to $2.7.

India, also a major Asian trade partner for Iran, has not released customs statistics for the first quarter of 2020 but according to the data published by its Ministry of Economy the country only imported commodities worth $33 million from Iran in January which is down from the same month in 2019 by twenty-one fold while its exports to Iran also dropped by almost 30% to $234 million.

The steep drop in Iran’s exports are mainly due to U.S. sanctions that have crippled its fossil fuel sales.

According to the official statistics released by the Customs of China, in the first quarter of the current year China's imports from Iran went down to $1.8 billion, indicating a 52.7% drop. However, Chinese exports to Iran rose by 16% to $2.130 billion in the same period.

China and Syria are the only countries that buy crude oil from Iran now. In January and February China imported around 81,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Iran which dropped to around 62,000 barrels in March.

The European Union has not published its statistics for trade with Iran in the current year but the figures for 2019 indicated EU exports to Iran in 2019 had dropped to half while their imports from Iran had gone down by fourteen-fold in comparison with 2018.

In 2019 the EU countries exported commodities worth 4.524 billion euro to Iran with imports from Iran amounting only to 701 million euros, the lowest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Neither Iraq, Afghanistan, nor the United Arab Emirates, also major trade partners of Iran, have published any statistics for trade with Tehran in 2019 and the current year.