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allison boulton

With Ottawa's bilateral sanctions now lifted, Canadian businesses should be considering if they should do business in Iran. After all, it is not often that a new opportunity appears on the world stage, especially one with 70 million people.

Several European countries have already had trade missions to Tehran – France alone had over 100 businesses visit last September and an order of 118 Airbus jets has recently been placed. For Canadian firms, trading with Iran is still a murky area as sanctions haven't officially been lifted by Ottawa, although there has been a trickle of products entering Canada from Iran for years.

Opportunities will exist in many industries, including agri-foods, construction, oil and gas, pharma and beauty products. Service providers also have opportunities. Is your business's expertise in the oil and gas industry needed in Iran? The Iranian market may be your next big thing.

First steps

As with any international business deal, due diligence on products and regulations is vital. If some sanctions remain, a business must ensure their Iranian partner or buyer does not have any ties to a restricted person or entity.

When entering any new market, signing the deal is only one piece of the arrangement – shipping, customs and regulations are integral to success. These details may be further complicated by a lack of Canadian logistics companies with experience in Iran, the absence of a formal trade agreement and Iran not yet being a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Utilizing shipping companies and customs brokers that have experience in the Middle East, most likely the United Arab Emirates, is a good start. Once sanctions are lifted, we should start to see trade commissioners from Global Affairs Canada being more active in the area, and they will be another valuable resource.

Cultural factors

Iran is a country with a long history of trading, and I have always found Iranians to be people with a "can do" attitude. Throughout the years under sanctions, they have had to figure out work-arounds and ingenious methods of solving problems to keep their businesses going. This means that there is always a solution, it might not be a direct one, and rarely the easiest, but the persistence to find a solution is evident in all aspects of life. Iran is a country with a deep history and a culture rich with tradition and delicate balances, so make sure to educate yourself on the cultural practices and the region's history.

Making it happen

Canada benefits from a large and active Iranian community that can act as a resource for Canadian businesses wanting to export and engage in business in Iran. Who is in your network that you can partner with and learn from?

The opportunity is real, and the market is large and ready to come back into the global economy. Trade with the Middle East is generally on an upswing, and Iran has the potential to grow into another successful market like the ones Canada enjoys with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Canadian businesses need to identify buyers and partners for expansion into Iran and need clarity on how they can legally, quickly and successfully capture this new market.

Allison Boulton is based in Vancouver and works with companies to grow their international sales and decipher global culture. She has visited Iran twice and was inspired by the warmth and hospitality of the people.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that sanctions were expected to be lifted soon. The story has been updated show that the sanctions have now been amended.