Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to the annual general meeting of the Cyprus-Iran Business Association.
I had the pleasure and honour to attend your very first meeting, on the day of the establishment of your association, just over a year ago. On that day, economic relations between Iran and Cyprus entered a new phase with the signing of the Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Fiscal Evasion, right on the aftermath of the international agreement reached in Vienna on the 14th July 2015.
Since then, the agreement has been fully ratified by the Cyprus Republic and I am pleased to hear that national procedures in Iran may also be concluded by the end of the year, thus paving the way for the coming into force of this important, framework setting agreement.
Let me emphasize that we remain committed to building a long-term and mutually beneficial economic partnership with Iran. For doing so, we need to build trust and find pragmatic solutions to enable our businesses to benefit from the new opportunities.
We release that economic co-operation with Iran is still confronted with challenges.
And probably the most significant of these challenges relate to the external difficulties for European banks to operate in Iran. In part, the reluctance or hesitation of banks to engage in Iran comes for the effects of US sanctions. It is also partly due to considerations relating to current international banking standards as well as anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing controls.
The Cyprus government will continue to monitor the situation, and will continue engaging with the banks but also with EU and US authorities, in a joint effort to establish clarity and good understanding of the sanctions framework and to ensure that there are no unjustified obstacles or uncertainties for the resumption of economic and trade relations with Iran.
From the side of Iran, there may be scope to further modernize its business environment in sectors like banking and finance, property right protection, public procurement and the standardization and regulatory framework in various sectors.
In this respect we follow the discussions between the authorities of Iran and the European Commission, regarding the prospects of a Regulatory and Industrial Policy Dialogue, which may also have a sectoral dimension including pharmaceuticals, automotive, raw materials, tourism, construction and textile, in order to build convergence on technical regulations and standards. Obviously, some of these sectors are of very high significance for Cyprus.
We also look forward to the opening of a fully operational EU Delegation in Iran, as this will contribute further to the expansion of economic and political ties.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite the challenges, I consider the recent developments on economic relations with Iran as promising. There is an increase in trade and travel between Iran and the EU, and Cyprus seems to be following this trend especially on travel and tourism. And there is definitely willingness on both sides to do business.
Let me assure you that our government will continue working in this direction, not only bilaterally but also through its participation in the decision-making bodies of institutions like the European Investment Bank and the EBRD, and of course through its EU membership.
And we shall continue regarding your association as a key partner and stakeholder, in this joint effort.
I will conclude by highlighting once again the high potential of Iran in terms of economic growth, an educated workforce, natural resources and the need for upgrading infrastructures in various sectors, and the excellent opportunities which are beginning to emerge and which we should all nurture and support.