With the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the legal firm Ashurst, BICC held a conference on 'Healthcare in Iran' on 4 July 2018 in London. Trade in Pharmaceutical and Healthcare goods and services, which has never been subject to sanctions, remains a high priority issue for the British government and is one of four specific areas in which the government has requested sanctions exemptions from the US government.
Chairman of BICC and Government Trade Envoy to Iran, Lord Lamont, outlined latest developments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during his opening remarks, noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency had now certified Iran's compliance with its obligations on 11 consecutive occasions. He noted that the UK government and the European Union is taking action to protect companies against US sanctions by modifying existing laws to make it illegal for companies to collaborate with US courts on cases relating to Iranian sanctions. The principle difficulty, however, remained the unwillingness of UK clearing banks to transact with Iran and this remained the case even for healthcare goods and services.
The UK government's support for continuing trade in this area was underlined Department of Health Minister Stephen Brine who delivered the opening keynote address. Outlining the UK's world- leading position in life sciences and, noting that the Iranian Healthcare market was work $4.2 Billion in 2016, the Minister applauded the ambitions of the Iranian government's Healthcare Transformation Plan and looked forward to developing collaboration between the two countries in this sector through trade, investment and education. Iran could be a gateway to other markets, especially in the region. He noted the intensive European expert discussions with Iran underway to protect trade and maintain economic links.
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hamid Baeidinejad, told the conference of Iran's progress in healthcare. Life expectancy had increased from 55 40 years ago to 76 today. An ambitious healthcare plan involving major investments under the National Medical Roadmap, in areas such as pharmaceuticals, treatment facilities, medical education and tourism, has been set out by the government of President Rouhani, with particular emphasis on the construction of hospitals, adding a further 120,000 beds to the existing infrastructure in small as well as large cities. A first step in this direction is the signature of contracts with Austria, Italy, China and South Korea to add 11,000 beds to the existing hospital capacity. The Ambassador noted that he had personally witnessed the UK government's support for trade between the two countries, particularly in the area of healthcare which, he observed, should be 'devoid of political angles.'
Many speakers pointed out that "our problems are shared problems". Challenges included ageing populations, the rising cost of services, inequality in provision, social action to address environmental and economic causes of harm, technology including data sciences, improving management systems, prevention and action on non-communicable diseases. UK companies, including SMEs, were warmly invited to work with counterparts in Iran.
Discussions covered the obstacles to increased cooperation. Some large companies with interests in the US may chose not to work with Iran, but others, including major British companies, are doing so successfully now.
Official support services were available from the DIT - including Healthcare UK which puts together consortia for complex projects - and Iranian bodies such as the Tehran Chamber of Commerce and its Centre for Investment and Consultancy Services. Iran's Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA) was intended to provide a favourable FDI regime. Joint work between Iranian and British companies, with long-term commitment, was preferred.
On the crucial unresolved issue of finance, firms had to wait and see what transpired, particularly on whether money from Iran would be accepted by exporters' home banks. Europaische Iranische Handelsbank (EIH Bank, Hamburg) outlined its Euro-based letter of credit and guarantee business in trade with Iran, emphasising that it was too soon to determine the final result of US reinstatement of secondary sanctions on non-US firms doing lawful business with Iran.
The BICC President, Sir Richard Dalton, in his summary of the meeting, said that he hoped the UK government would request from the US government treatment for UK banks and firms at least equal to that extended to US firms for the substantial US medical and agricultural trade with Iran. There was no good reason for UK banks not to finance such trade and he hoped that the UK government would make a strong case to UK banks publicly to support it.