Since the announcement of the Iran nuclear/sanctions agreement on 14 July 2015 (the “Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action” or JCPOA), the potential economic and trade opportunities which the lifting of sanctions would offer are starting to look more real. The UK government is conducting a Business Survey, inviting UK businesses to indicate their interest in the Iranian market and what support they may need in order to begin operating there once sanctions are lifted. Dechert’s UK clients with an interest in engagement with Iran are advised to respond, especially if they have issues with which they would like government assistance.

It is widely expected that the easing of Iranian sanctions, expected in 2016, may see as much as £100 bn of Iranian assets unblocked. It is not yet certain that the sanctions will be eased — it will only happen once Iran has taken a number of specified steps in relation to its nuclear capabilities and demonstrated to the satisfaction of the IAEA that it completed them — and the amount of frozen funds may be debated. Nonetheless the point is clear: the unblocking of Iranian funds will enable that money to be put to use in expanding the Iranian economy; and the removal of other trade barriers will open trade opportunities with Iran, a significant economy, to EU (but not US) businesses.

Within the EU there has been some criticism that the UK has been slower than some of its EU partners in proactively developing relations with Iran as the easing of sanctions became a possibility — for example, Italian, French and German ministers have visited Iran in recent months to foster relations, but no-one of such level has visited from the UK. This builds on an already lower starting point — UK does significantly less trade with Iran that its main EU partners, and is still without an embassy in Tehran.

However the UK government is alive to the need to support UK business as opportunities open up. As a first step, UK Trade and Investment, a joint enterprise between the department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has launched a Business Survey, inviting UK businesses to contribute their views, intentions and concerns as regards potential trade with Iran. UKTI asks that companies submit their responses by 11 August. The UK will no doubt use these responses in tailoring its near term strategy for developing trade relations with Iran, and accordingly Dechert clients are advised to take advantage of this opportunity to convey to UKTI their intentions and concerns.