Japan and Iran signed a bilateral investment pact Friday in a bid to give Japanese firms an edge in the global rush for access to the resource-rich nation.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida signed the pact with Iran’s visiting Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Taiebnia during a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.
The signing comes after Tokyo lifted sanctions on Iran last month following confirmation by a U.N. nuclear watchdog that Tehran had implemented measures promised under a landmark nuclear deal it struck with six major powers in July. The sanctions included halts on new investment in oil and gas.
Since the nuclear deal was concluded, the United States, European countries and China have been increasingly strengthening ties with Iran in a race to tap into its business potential. Iran, with a population of around 80 million, has rich oil and natural gas reserves.
Japan is determined not to fall behind its rivals and hopes the pact will eventually lead to greater auto exports and greater participation in the development of Iranian oil fields, Japanese officials said.
Earlier Friday, Taiebnia praised the high quality of Japanese technology.
“The country of Japan, which in the eyes of the Iranians has always been associated with high-quality and trustworthy products, will have a higher chance to enter Iran’s market and establish long-term partnerships,” he said.
He added, there is “great appetite” in Iran for fuel-efficient, high-quality cars and motorcycles, renewable energy and improvements in agricultural processing.
With the lifting of the sanctions, Japanese insurance companies will be able to issue policies covering trade deals involving Iran. Japanese businesses will also be able focus on making new investments in Iran’s oil and gas sector.
Japanese companies are already lining up to resume business with Iran, with Suzuki Motor Corp. on Thursday saying it was considering returning to the Iranian market.
The lifting of sanctions may also allow Japanese companies to return to a development project in Azadegan, one of the world’s largest oil fields, in Iran’s southwest. Japan had a 75 percent stake in the project but withdrew in 2010.
Iran’s first shipments of crude oil since the lifting of sanctions departed from the country’s main oil terminal bound for Japan and China. The shipments left on Jan. 27, an Iranian oil ministry official said.
Each of the tankers is carrying around 2 million barrels of crude worth about $66 million.
Iran aims to boost its crude oil exports to Japan from 110,000 barrels per day during the sanctions to about 300,000, an Iranian news report said.