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Despite sanctions, Iran says agricultural exports booming

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's agricultural exports grew last year, with pistachio and saffron sales almost doubling, despite Western sanctions on trade with the country, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Iran's deputy agriculture minister as saying on Saturday.

Between March 21 and December 20, Iran's pistachio exports doubled to $587 million, making the nuts Iran's biggest agricultural export by value. Exports of saffron rose 87 percent to $213 million, Fars reported.

"Export of farming products has increased 15 percent compared to the previous year, while the agricultural exports are still on the increase on a daily basis," Far quoted Jahangir Pourhemmat as saying.

"Over 95 percent of Iran's needed products are produced inside the country which is highly important for the country's political independence."

Western sanctions on banks dealing with Iran, which are intended to force Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program by preventing it from selling oil, have made it difficult for exporters of many other Iranian goods to get paid.

Despite tighter controls on trade with Iran in 2012 compared to 2011, Fars said exports of everything from tomatoes and potatoes to water melons, kiwi fruit and apples all grew significantly last year.

It did not say how exporters of agricultural goods were paid for their goods, but Iran has struck several barter deals over the past year to secure goods it needs in exchange for products it cannot sell easily due to banking restrictions.

(Reporting by Daniel Fineren; Editing by Paul Tait)