Iran customs hold four million tons of goods amid dispute

Bloomberg: Four million tons of food and medicines are stranded in Iranian customs because of disagreements between the central bank and the Commerce Ministry over access to a preferential currency exchange rate for importers of essential goods, local media reported. Bloomberg

By Ladane Nasseri

Four million tons of food and medicines are stranded in Iranian customs because of disagreements between the central bank and the Commerce Ministry over access to a preferential currency exchange rate for importers of essential goods, local media reported.

The central bank is legally bound to allocate dollars at a cheaper rate for importers of goods classified as essential until late March 2014, though it has not done so, the Tehran-based Shargh newspaper said. Importers are being asked to pay a rate twice as high to release goods from customs, said the daily, which interviewed trade representatives.

Last month Iran’s central bank canceled the set preferential rate of 12,260 rials per dollar, replacing it with a variable rate posted on its website. Today’s rate is 24,789 rials for the dollar.

The disagreement comes as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office next week to be succeeded by Hassan Rohani, a moderate cleric and lawyer by training. The new president has pledged to tackle Iran’s inflation and unemployment. U.S.-led sanctions over the country’s nuclear program have also cut the Persian Gulf nation’s oil exports and its access to foreign currency.

“We all admit that Iran’s foreign currency revenues have dropped,” said Majid-Reza Ansari, who heads the imports committee at Iran’s Chamber of Commerce. “Still, we need to properly manage the existing revenues rather than avoid allocating currencies and disrupting the market.”

Asadollah Asgaroladi, head of the Chamber of Commerce’s export committee, said it was likely there would be shortages of some essential goods in the absence of a quick solution, the Iranian Labor News Agency said yesterday.

Masoud Daneshmand, a member of the Tehran chamber of commerce’s board of representatives, expressed similar concerns in the Shagh report today.

“If the dispute is not resolved and relegated to the next administration it may not be possible for the goods to be cleared before October,” Daneshmand said, “which means much of the foodstuff will perish.”