New Zealand and the Islamic Republic of Iran

  • Marian Hobbs
Foreign Affairs and Trade

New Zealand has a long-standing relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is a relationship that is developing in line with changing bilateral and multilateral environments, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about those developments.
We opened our Embassy in Tehran in 1975, the first in the Middle East region, reflecting Iran’s significance as a trading partner. Iran established its Embassy in Wellington in the mid-1980s.
In 1985 – when figures show that Iran was by far our largest Middle Eastern market, with exports of $445 million – we set up a Joint Ministerial Commission (or JMC) as a framework under which we could discuss and advance trade and economic issues.
The JMC proved a useful structure for developing the bilateral economic relationship with Iran. At a time when New Zealand had a major trade in sheep meat with Iran the JMC was a mechanism by which we could address any trade-related difficulties through discussions at a senior level. The eighth – and last – session of the JMC was held in Tehran in April 2002, co-chaired by my colleague Jim Sutton.
Last year, Iran was looking to consolidate the wide range of JMCs it had with a number of bilateral partners, and this presented a good opportunity to establish a bilateral framework for the continuation of high-level visits that offered a broader political and economic scope, one that better reflected the current political and commercial relationship.
In line with that objective, New Zealand and Iran negotiated an arrangement establishing a Political and Economic Cooperation Commission. The signature of this arrangement by Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff and his counterpart Dr Kamal Kharrazi in August signified a new chapter in the relationship.
Dr Kharrazi’s visit to New Zealand, reciprocating a visit to Iran in 2002 by Phil Goff, embodied the broader focus of the relationship in recent years. In addition to bilateral issues, there were a number of regional and multilateral issues on the agenda for discussion with Dr Kharrazi during his meetings with a range of Ministers – including the Prime Minister, Phil Goff, Jim Sutton and me.
Iran occupies an important strategic position between the Middle East and Asia and Dr Kharrazi’s visit occurred against a backdrop of events in the Middle East region of close interest to the international community. We appreciated the opportunity to gain Iranian views on those events. Iran’s strategic position between Iraq and Afghanistan gives it a unique perspective – one of real interest to New Zealand given our own involvement there.
My own discussions with Dr Kharrazi provided an opportunity for an exchange of views, in the lead-up to the September International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting, on Iran’s nuclear programme – a key area of concern for New Zealand. Over the past year, New Zealand has maintained a close dialogue with Iran over its nuclear programme; we have encouraged Iran to fully meet its obligations to the IAEA under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to work with the IAEA to resolve all outstanding issues. We have also urged Iran to assist in rebuilding international confidence by re-committing to full suspension of enrichment and reprocessing related activities.
Iran remains a significant export market for New Zealand, our fourth largest in the Middle East, and a source of oil and carpet imports. In the post-meat trade era, New Zealand’s trade with Iran is diversifying and becoming more sophisticated. While butter and wool made up the bulk of New Zealand’s $101 million of exports to Iran in the year to June 2004, Iran is also becoming a useful market for a more diverse range of New Zealand products and services.
Last year, Auckland company Intermech Ltd was one of a number of New Zealand companies making the most of opportunities in our trade relationship with Iran, winning a contract worth US$20 million to manufacture and install CNG filling stations in Iran.
New Zealand companies are developing links in a range of areas where we have expertise, such as electronics and geothermal technology, air traffic control, postal services and earthquake engineering. There are excellent prospects to build on sales by our information and telecommunications technology sectors, as we saw with the successful visit to Iran in May by the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Paul Swain.
Education is another key area of bilateral cooperation. The Iranian Government has resumed its sponsorship of students studying in New Zealand. Iran has established Memoranda of Understanding with four New Zealand universities and is negotiating a fifth. Eleven Iranian students are currently undertaking post-graduate studies at New Zealand universities.
The relationship between New Zealand and Iran, traditionally based on our meat trade, has developed into a more diverse and sophisticated trading relationship that offers opportunities for cooperation in a growing number of sectors. The relationship has also developed a political and security dimension reflected in the broader framework of the recently established Political and Economic Cooperation Commission, which allows us to maintain high-level contact on areas of mutual interest.