On 16 January 2016, the EU economic and financial sanctions in connection with the Iranian nuclear program were lifted. The International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA” verified that Iran had fulfilled its obligations as agreed under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “JCPOA”.

The JCPOA, known commonly as ‘Iran Deal’, was reached in Vienna on 14 July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 Countries (China, France, Russia, USA and the UK plus Germany) and the EU, paving the way for the sanctions relief. The JCPOA is based on the belief that Iran’s nuclear program will be for exclusively peaceful purposes. In return, the JCPOA provides that Iran will receive relief from U.S., EU, and UN Security Council nuclear-related crippling sanctions.

During 2013 and prior to the conclusion of the JCPOA, Iran and the world powers held formal negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. The negotiations led to an interim agreement, officially called the Joint Plan of Action, which resulted in freezing key parts of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for a decrease in sanctions imposed on Iran, commencing on January 2014. (Click here to see our previous publications from August 2015 and October 2015).

LONG-AWAITED SANCTIONS RELIEF

After almost a decade of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, the EU, as of 16 January 2016, terminated all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, officially known as Implementation Day. As a result of the ultimate lifting of EU sanctions, the following activities and their related services, are now allowed:

Financial, Banking and Insurance Sectors

Following Implementation Day, the prohibition of financial transfers to and from Iran was lifted. Therefore, transfer of funds between EU persons and Iranian persons, including EU and Iranian financial and credit institutions are permitted, without requirement for authorization or notification. Furthermore, restrictions linked to the amount of funds to be transferred are no longer applicable, provided that such transactions do not involve black-listed Iranian persons, entities or bodies.

Banking activities, such as the establishment of new correspondent banking relationships with Iranian banks are allowed, provided that such activities are with non-black-listed financial institutions. It should be noted that certain Iranian banks are still sanctioned and transactions with these banks remain prohibited. The black-listed banks namely are: Ansar Bank, Bank Saderat Iran, Bank Saderat plc and Mehr Bank.

In 2012, due to international sanctions imposed on the country, the majority of Iranian banks were blocked from using SWIFT services. However, as a consequence of lifting the sanctions, the supply of specialized financial messaging services is now permitted for Iranian legal or natural persons.

Hence, Iranian banks which are no longer on the EU sanctions black list are allowed to reconnect to SWIFT, following the completion of the SWIFT normal connection process.

As of Implementation Day, EU Member States are allowed to provide financial support for trade with Iran, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance, to EU nationals or entities. 

In addition, it is allowed to provide insurance or reinsurance to Iran or the Government of Iran or any non-black-listed Iranian person, entity or body, or a natural person or a legal person, entity or body acting on their behalf or at their direction.

Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Sectors

In 2012, the EU tightened its sanctions regime against Iran and banned all business activities in relation to Iranian oil and petrochemical products as well as natural gas. However, thanks to the lifting of EU sanctions, it is now permissible to import, purchase, swap or transport Iranian crude oil and petroleum products, natural gas or petrochemical products. In addition, all associated financing services are now allowed.

Importantly, EU persons are able to sell, supply, transfer or export equipment or technology, technical assistance, including training, used in the sectors of the oil, gas and petrochemical industries in Iran, to any Iranian person, in or outside Iran, or for use in Iran. Furthermore, it is now permissible for EU persons to invest in Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemical sectors.

Shipping, Shipbuilding and Transport Sectors

The lifting of EU sanctions made it permissible to supply cargo vessels designated for the transportation or storage of oil and petrochemical products to non-black-listed Iranian natural or legal persons. 

It is also permissible to sell, supply, transfer or export naval equipment and technology for shipbuilding, maintenance or refit to Iran or any non-black-listed Iranian persons engaged in this sector.

In addition, it is permitted to provide bunkering or any other servicing of vessels to Iranian-owned or Iranian-contracted vessels, including chartered vessels, and the provision of fuel, engineering and maintenance services to Iranian cargo aircraft not carrying prohibited items.

Gold and other Precious Metals

It is permitted to sell, supply, purchase, export, transfer or transport gold and other precious metals, and to provide related brokering, financing and security services to or from Iran.

Also, the sale, purchase, transportation or brokering of diamonds to Iran is allowed.

Metals

It is no longer prohibited to sell, supply, transfer or export graphite and raw or semi-finished metals, such as aluminum and steel to any Iranian person, entity or body or for use in Iran, but it is subject to prior authorization regime.

Software 

As of Implementation Day, the export of software to Iran is permitted, with some exceptions regarding the following:

Prior authorization is needed for the sale, supply, transfer or export of:

  1. Enterprise Resource Planning software designated for use in nuclear and military industries; and 
  2. software related to nuclear equipment and technologies.

It should be noted that the sale, supply, transfer or export of software related to ballistic missiles is still prohibited, and all associated business activities are prohibited accordingly.

WHAT SANCTIONS REMAIN IN PLACE TODAY?

On Implementation Day, the EU lifted all economic and financial sanctions imposed in relation to the Iranian nuclear program. However, Iran is not yet free of sanctions, as the arms embargo as well as missile technology-related sanctions have not been lifted. Therefore, all business activities related to the above remain prohibited.

Additionally, sanctions imposed by the EU in view of the human rights situation in Iran, support for terrorism and other grounds as well as a ban on exports to Iran of equipment which might be used for internal repression and of equipment for monitoring telecommunications remain in place.

It should also be noted that the dual-use goods and technology that could contribute to reprocessing, enrichment-related, heavy water-related or other activities are subject to prior authorization. In this case, authorization is granted on a case-by-case basis by the national competent authority of the EU Member State in question.

COULD THE LIFTED SANCTIONS BE RE-INTRODUCED?

According to the JCPOA, the possibility of re-introducing international sanctions against Iran does exist. In the event of a significant non-performance of Iran’s obligations under the JCPOA, the parties of the deal will try to resolve the matter according to an agreed consultation process under the JCPOA. If at the end of the process the issue is still unsolved, the UN Security Council will be notified. Thereafter, the UN Security Council, in turn, will vote on a resolution to continue with the present status quo or re-impose sanctions. If such a resolution is not adopted within 30 days, then the previous UN Security Council resolutions concerning the sanctions against Iran will be re-imposed, unless the UN Security Council decides otherwise.

IF SANCTIONS ARE RE-IMPOSED?

Should this happen, the EU will re-introduce all sanctions that have been lifted in compliance with the JCPOA. However, it is crucial to note that the re-introduced sanctions will not apply with retroactive effect. For example, the execution of contracts concluded in between Implementation Day and before the re-introduction of sanctions will continue to be permitted, in order to allow companies to wind down their activities. In addition, investment activities made before the date of the re-introduction of sanctions will not be penalized, henceforth, the execution of investment contracts will be permitted.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As explained above, the EU economic and financial sanctions imposed in relations to Iran’s nuclear program have now been lifted. As a consequence of the sanctions relief, Iranian markets offer a vast array of opportunities for international business, which are almost inconceivable in any other country in the Middle East region.

It should be noted that certain sanctions are still in place, and certain entities and individuals are on the sanctions black list. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to perform thorough due diligence on: 

  1. the products that you are dealing with, by checking whether the export of your products requires prior authorization; and 
  2. your local customers or local partners in order to ensure that your transactions do not involve any black-listed person, entity or bank.

Also, as there is always a possibility for the lifted sanctions to be re-imposed, it is recommended that your long-terms contracts include a clear and effective exit strategy to allow you to wind down your business activities as efficiently as possible.

IRAN FACTFILE

Population (2014): 78.14m (2nd largest of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region after Egypt)

GDP at market prices (2014): US$425.3bn (2nd largest economy in MENA after Saudi Arabia)

Surface area: 1,745,150 sq.km.

Annual GDP growth forecast: 1.9% (2015); 5.8% (2016); 6.7% (2017)

Annual Inflation, consumer prices (2014): 17.2%

Time required to start a business (2015): 15 calendar days

Source: World Bank