Page last updated at 20:34 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2006

Iranian exporters fear sanctions

By Frances Harrison
BBC News in Tehran

Iranian ladies in white coats and plastic shower caps sift through sultanas in a factory outside Tehran.

Iranian ladies in white coats and plastic shower caps sift through sultanas in a factory outside Tehran
Sanctions could spark job losses

The fruits have to be triple hand checked for impurities to meet the exacting hygiene standards abroad, but that makes the product too expensive for the local market.

If sanctions were applied over Iran's nuclear programme it is possible Iran's non oil exports will be affected.

Iran's exporters have been there before.

The current situation, where batches of sultanas are often headed for the United States, would have been unthinkable a decade ago when Iranian dried fruit exports were blocked by US sanctions.

Arat and Co. is the biggest exporter of Iranian sultanas and dates to North America.

It is a family business that processes millions of dollars worth of dried fruit a year.

If sanctions were slapped on again it would be a disaster for Arat's owner Siamak Shahriari.

"The worst thing is losing the opportunity we had," he says.

"We created jobs, we created a market, but with sanctions we could lose everything we earned up to now."

Good relations

Hundreds of factory workers and fruit farmers in rural areas would stand to lose their jobs.

Sultanas in a factory outside Tehran
Exports to the US would have been impossible a decade ago

"If something happens it will become extremely difficult for us because we will not be able to pay our bills and we will suffer," says Khanume Irami, who single-handedly supports her family of seven on her income from the sultana factory.

She says Iran should have nuclear technology, but she also hopes the company can avoid going out of business.

These are worries shared by those working in Iran's most traditional export, Persian carpets, a sector that was also weighed down by US sanctions until recently.

Razi Miri who runs Miri Carpets employs 6,000 people in his export business in the bazaar.

He has pioneered the weaving of new carpets using old designs reviving traditional methods of dying and weaving, but the product is again too expensive for the local market.

Mr Miri, who has just returned from a carpet expo in Germany, says the problems in getting visas for some countries already make it difficult for him to do business, though it could get worse.

"Exporting is something special," he says.

"We have to have good relations with other countries if we want to export."

Violent revolution

Mr Miri believes sanctions simply will not have the intended effect because exporters will always find a way round them.

Persian carpet makers
Locals cannot afford Persian carpets

"Sanctions can be a very serious problem for exporters in our country," he says, adding that "it doesn't mean they can stop Iran 100% in terms of business; they can make problems for us but [they cannot stop us] completely".

The message from Iran's exporters is that sanctions that would curb Iran's non oil exports would not alter government policy, but it would remove the livelihood of ordinary Iranians.

Some abroad might say that would force the Iranian people to topple their government, but after one violent revolution a quarter of a century ago there is little appetite here for another.

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