Guest Commentary by Pouyan Tabasinejad, Bijan Ahmadi, Mehdi Samadian
The nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries on July 14, 2015, marked a milestone in the history of world diplomacy.
The final agreement, which was a result of 20 months of arduous negotiations, was implemented beginning January 16, 2016, with a formal easing of sanctions in exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear program. However, while many of Canada’s allies have already begun to reap the rewards of the deal by reengaging with Iran economically and diplomatically, Canada has not re-engaged as quickly.
Canada is lagging behind her allies. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran has complied with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA. This means that Iran’s reintegration into the international community and economy will likely continue to accelerate.
Since implementation of the nuclear deal several international companies have been able to conclude contracts in a variety of fields with Iran. This includes deals with Boeing and Airbus, worth billions.
Reintegration has also taken place in the diplomatic realm as well. The British embassy in Tehran was opened in August 2015 after four years of closure. Over the last 12 months, several countries have started to re-engage economically with Iran and further economic and trade deals are expected in the near future.
In Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted some of Canada’s sanctions on Iran in February 2016, leaving in place those relating to arms, Iran’s ballistic missiles program and restrictions on a list of designated individuals.
With a large Iranian Canadian community (a population of around 300,000), who have links with Iran and familiarity with Iranian culture and business norms, there are enormous opportunities for Canada to engage and collaborate with Iran in a variety of fields including trade, cultural exchanges and collaboration in science and research.
The Iranian diaspora in Canada have also been largely supportive of the nuclear deal with Iran and re-engagement.
Last year, in two surveys conducted by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), close to 80 per cent of the respondents reported that they were positive about the outcome of the nuclear deal and expressed their hope for rapprochement between Canada and Iran.
All indications point to great potential for trade between Canada and Iran. Canada’s exports to Iran peaked at $772 million in 1997. This figure declined precipitously to $67 million in 2014, after Canada imposed sanctions on Iran.
While Canada lifted most of its sanctions in February 2016, Canadian companies and institutions have been slow to respond. A major barrier preventing further economic engagement today is the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Since the last federal election, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has repeatedly expressed Canada’s intention to re-engage with Iran and has confirmed that talks between the two countries have begun.
However, there is still significant uncertainty about the timeline and progress of this reengagement process.
While the benefits of reengaging with Iran are enormous and clear, it is important to recognize the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead.
The international banking system has been reluctant to reconnect with Iran, fearful of punishment by U.S regulators, an issue that has even affected the services some Canadian banks are willing to offer Iranian-Canadians. These problems may undermine the nuclear deal and the economic benefits Iran expects to receive from the deal.
Secondly, the deal’s fate is contingent upon the political will of the leadership of the countries involved. Given the rhetoric from U.S. presidential candidates and the repeated attempts of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress to block the implementation of JCPOA, there is significant uncertainty about the future of the Iran deal.
Another threat to the process of rapprochement with Iran is the issue of human rights. The United Nations has consistently criticized Iran for its human rights situation. Though this issue is not a direct threat to the JCPOA, it has become a subject of controversy in terms of expanding relations with Iran in Canada and other countries.
While there are significant challenges in the path forward, there is hope that continued dialogue and engagement with Iran will address these hurdles.
Canada must partake in this momentous opportunity in the history of world diplomacy and side with peace, dialogue, and constructive, mutually beneficial engagement.
Pouyan Tabasinejad is the Policy Chair of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC). Bijan Ahmadi is the President and Mehdi Samadian recently joined the ICC as a Policy Associate.