Rouhani and other administration officials’ hailing of the positive trade balance has not been welcomed by everyone. Some figures active in the economic arena do not regard it as an achievement, arguing that it was only the result of sharp drops in both imports and exports, as well as what they call “unusual economic conditions.”
Mohammad Reza Sabzalipur, head of the World Trade Center Tehran, told al-Monitor, “It is not a positive balance of trade. Rather it shows austerity and economic contraction. The overall foreign trade of the country was around $40 billion last year, of which imports shrank by nearly 25% and exports by 18% compared to the same period the previous year.”
Critics also argue that the non-oil trade surplus does not reflect an economic improvement, given that Iran’s economy is hit by a recession while falling imports have reduced domestic production.
Asadollah Asgaroladi, a prominent businessman who is also a member of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, told the local Eghtesad News, “It is not a good matter that Iran’s balance of trade has become positive. If imports are reduced, domestic demands cannot be met. It is good to reduce imports of consumer goods, but imports of production machinery and raw materials should be increased, otherwise smugglers will import them.”
Although official figures indicate a positive trade balance, it is no secret that smuggling, which is not included in official data, has long been a major issue for the Islamic Republic.
The value of smuggled imports is estimated at an average of between $15 billion to $25 billion a year. Mehdi Pourqazi, head of the Industry Commission at Tehran’s Chamber of Commerce, told the online outlet Omid-e-Iranian that if this estimate is added to the bill for legal imports, “the balance of trade would not be positive.”