Since pearl fishing was Dubai’s main industry ancient wooden dhows have been the backbone of the mercantile trade between the Gulf state and Iran.
The trade increased with barely a pause for the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the US sanctions imposed the same year, although the Iranian community in Dubai mushroomed after the fall of the Shah as people fled the mullahs.
International sanctions from 2013 changed things for the expats, some half a million of them.
“Actually in Dubai, they are living their own life. But it’s reducing a lot. I think it does change a lot of things. Normally dhows from Dubai, or cargos, 70 -80% of the cargos go to Iran. Since the sanctions nobody from Iran is buying the items here in Dubai or from other places to transit to Dubai,” says Sawan Trading Entreprises’ Iman Motameni.
It is the second-largest Iranian community outside Iran after the USA, and the bilateral trade with home, just a 10-hour voyage away, may total as much as 1% of Dubai’s GDP.
“Dubai, some time ago when there were no sanctions had a very good export and import trade with Iran which, on a gradual basis, has dropped to 12 billion then to 8.5 billion, and last year to around 4.5 billion US dollars. This could go back to the same level if the sanctions are over,” says the co-founder of the Iranian Business Council Hossein Haghighi.
Dubai is Iran’s second-largest trade partner after China, and expat Iranian families have vowed to boost trade as soon as possible.
The negotiations underway in Vienna may decide the lifting of the sanctions against Iran. In this case Dubai, already an important banking and trade hub, will be in pole position for resumed international trade with Iran.
“Iranians in the diaspora are used to the highs and lows of international negotiations. They told me that treaties and compromises are part of their culture. This uncertain life does not deter them from continuing a trade born centuries ago,” says euronews’ Dubai correspondent Rita Del Prete.