June 29, 2021
“Iran’s non-oil exports in the first quarter of 2021-2022, compared to in the spring of 2020, have increased by 69 percent,” outgoing President of Iran Hassan Rouhani claimed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, June 23.
Have non-oil exports really jumped so significantly in 2021-2022, amid ongoing sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic? And would any increase in non-oil exports in 2021 be an early sign of recovery in Iran’s ailing export market? IranWire tried to answer these questions.
Iran’s Non-Oil Exports in 2021, Interrogated
According to a recent report by the head of the Iranian Customs Administration, Mehdi Mir-Ashrafi, some 30 million tons of goods worth US$10.7 billion were exported from Iran in spring 2021. This is an increase of 38 percent in weight and 68 percent in income compared to the same period last year.
Regarding imports, Mir-Ashrafi said, some 8.4 million tons of goods worth $10.2 billion were brought into Iran during the same period. This was six percent less than in the same period last year in terms of weight, but 34 percent greater in terms of cost.
Overall, then, in the spring of 2021, Iranian traders recorded an official total of $10.7 billion in exports and $10.2 billion in imports. Therefore, Iran’s trade balance has been positive and so far, Hassan Rouhani’s statement is in line with what was stated the official records.
There are, however, mitigating factors that were not mentioned by either party. The first is that Iran’s non-oil exports in 2020-2021 had the lowest value of the past 11 years. Income from exports was only up by 68 percent because of the drastic drop in 2020 caused by the coronavirus pandemic and resultant closure of borders. In fact, the overall volume of Iran’s non-oil exports had decreased by close to 50 percent compared to spring 2019.
Tehran-based economic institute Eco Iran has listed a number of other factors bearing down on Iran’s sluggish exports in recent years. These included economic contraction in neighboring countries, which are the main destination of Iranian goods; global reductions in the prices of petrochemical products; cuts in gas exports to Turkey after a pipeline explosion in March 2020; the need for refrigerated containers to transport agricultural goods in the Persian Gulf; and long-term blockades of the Turkmenistan border, which have interrupted transit routes to Central Asian countries.
If the figures on Iran’s non-oil exports are compared to those recorded in winter 2020, the growth rate is also significantly smaller. During that three-month period, the stated value of non-oil exports was $9.89bn, signalling an increase of just 7.4 percent between seasons.
If Iran’s non-oil exports in the summer of 2021 are about the same as those recorded in the spring, it will mean export levels in the first half of 2021-2022 have not actually increased, but merely returned to the pre-pandemic levels recorded in early 2019-2020.
At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, June 23, President Hassan Rouhani claimed Iran’s non-oil exports in the first quarter of 2021-2022, has increased by 69 percent compared to the same period last year.
The claim is consistent with the figures recorded by Iran’s customs authorities, and is therefore likely to be true. However, it does not follow that Iranian international trade has significantly grown in the same period. On the contrary, it signals that export levels are similar to those being recorded before the pandemic.
In 2020-2021, Iran’s exports reached their lowest level of the past 11 years. Therefore, while acknowledging the correctness of Hassan Rouhani’s claim, IranWire considers it misleading because it does not provide the audience with useful information.
Misleading: A case in which certain true facts may be used in a statement to give rise to a false or unproven claim.