European companies likely to be losers in US-Iran rapprochement
RT:Both Iran and the US are signaling a thaw in their
political relations – what effect will it this have on economic
ties and business? Does it look like the US is attempting to
force out other companies from the Iranian market?
George Malbrunot: I think already there have been some secret contacts between US firms and Iranian counterparts in order to prepare, to anticipate the political deal between Iran and the United States. Mainly these contacts have occurred in the automobile sector. For the last year or more there have been some emissaries from General Motors, for example, going to Tehran to see their Iranian counterparts from Iran Khodro, in order to prepare the ground for the [return] of General Motors to Iran, which was very important before 1979.
So there are these kind of contacts with not only GM but other big US companies, also in the oil and gas sectors, which are very important in Iran, and it has been encouraged recently by the executive order that Barack Obama signed on June, 3, which prevents subcontractors dealing with Iranian firms in the automobile sector. And in fact this executive order was deeply targeting the French who are the only one now in the automobile sector in Iran, especially Renault, and the French contractors are very upset about that. And they interpret it as an attempt to clean the Iranian market before the return of US companies in Iran.
RT:In your article, you say American companies are
securing their positions on the Iranian market – how is this
GM: For the last six months, we've heard from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, that we are not any more opposed to direct contacts with the US. The businessmen are always more active in anticipating political deals and to anticipate change. During all these years of bad relations between Iran and the US there have always been some kind of secret contacts between US firms and Iranian firms. And mainly these contacts have been accelerated after the election of President Rouhani in Iran. And we've all seen at the last UN General Assembly in New York last month that now the Iranians are talking to the Americans. So there are preparations on the ground in order to go to Iran which is a huge market, 80 million consumers, with huge oil and gas resources, so it's natural that US businessmen are watching very carefully the developments which happen between Iran and the US.
And not only US businessmen are very [eager] to go to Iran, but you have also the German businessmen, who have always been active, with Siemens for example, and even the British who have no diplomatic relations with Iran are now starting to [study] this market carefully. The Japanese are also very active. And unfortunately for us in France, we are perhaps the last in Europe to try to go to Iran, because for the last [few] years France was extremely active in fighting against Iran. France was exerting the pressure on Iran in order to implement the sanctions. So the French businessmen are very upset with what's going on now, because for the last 20 years the US was [not in] Iran, and French businessmen had quite a good position in Iran - Total, Peugeot, Renault - and now they are afraid that all these years of efforts will be [wiped away] by the new deal which will happen between the US and Iran.
RT:Do you think we will be seeing an easing of sanctions against Iran soon?
GM: I think so, and the Iranians are a very proud nation and they have been always having very strange relations with Americans, love and hate, and once the sanctions will be lifted I'm quite sure the Iranians will look mainly toward American firms in the oil sector, in the automobile sector to fill the gap. So for sure European companies will be more probably losers in this kind of agreement.
I think that GM and even Chevrolet will go extremely quickly to Iran if there is a political agreement between the US and Iran, if the sanctions are lifted. I'm not sure that the Iranians will give a lot of pieces of the cake to French companies or others on this issue. And this is the reason why French companies are very worried about what's going on in the shadow of this rapprochement between the US and Iran.