THE Philippines and Iran have agreed to further expand their bilateral ties, beginning with establishing banking relations and renewing the strong economic cooperation between the two countries.
In a meeting with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Iranian Deputy Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpour offered Tehran’s assistance in supplying the Philippines’ energy requirements and expressed the hope that banking relations with Manila could be established soon.
Rahimpour also raised the possibility of President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Iran and extended the invitation as well to Dominguez.
“We are focused on expanding bilateral relations with the Philippines. At the same time, we are ready to increase the level of engagement in the Philippines, including in the area of banking relations,” Rahimpour said.
Rahimpour also said that Iran can help “secure the [Philippines’] energy needs for the future.”
Iranian Ambassador to Manila Mohammad Tanhaei, who was also at the meeting, said Rahimpour’s visit “reflects the special attention of our government to the Philippines.”
Dominguez, on his part, said that as part of the country’s Monetary Board, he was ready to assist Iranian officials in establishing a branch of one of its banks here, and said he would explore the possibility of setting up a branch of the Land Bank of the Philippines in Iran to address the banking and remittance needs of overseas Filipino workers in that country.
“We know that you’re open for business now, you have been open for business before, but now, it’s going to be much easier to transact with your [government], and we look at Iran as a good potential partner for the Philippines in the Middle East. It’s a great country, and we admire your history and your people,” Dominguez told Rahimpour.
Dominguez said “there are very, very good prospects” of the government procuring a part of its fuel and fertilizer requirements from Iran while, at the same time, reinvigorating the business exports of Philippine bananas to that country.
In an earlier meeting with Dominguez, Ambassador Tanhaei said Iran plans to increase its imports of bananas from the Philippines, along with exploring areas of cooperation in the energy sector and investing in infrastructure projects here.
Tanhaei has said he has been coordinating with local business groups, like the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry to explore areas of investments for Iranian companies.
“In the [Iranian] private sector…for example regarding bananas, there are some big companies that said we still need more bananas from the Philippines,” Tanhaei has said.
Filipino banana producers used to export 30 percent of their produce to Iran. The past UN trade restrictions imposed on the Iran, however, led to a decline in Philippine banana shipments to that country. The recent lifting of the trade sanctions could mean Iran might once again be one of the Philippines’ largest markets for its fresh banana exports.
Tanhaei has also said Iranian companies are interested to invest in the Philippines, particularly in infrastructure, power transmission and water purification projects.
The Iranian government, for its part, has expressed interest in working with the Philippines’ energy sector, particularly in the fields of oil exploration and the petroleum product trade, Tanhaei said.
Tanhaei noted that Manila and Tehran enjoy strong political relations, but can do more in reinforcing their economic ties, citing the Philippines as one of Iran’s “country priorities.”
Dominguez has assured Tanhaei that he would “be happy to assist him” and “will certainly welcome all of Iran’s officials” to Manila to help reinvigorate bilateral relations between the two countries.
Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Iran were established on January 22, 1964. Iran has consistently supported the peace process in Mindanao and also backed the Philippines’ application for observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference.