Croatia on Wednesday made the first major step towards its return to the Iranian market after UN sanctions against that country were lifted.
Seventy Croatian business people, who arrived in Iran as part of a delegation accompanying President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, established numerous contacts with their Iranian colleagues during a three-day visit, and concrete deals were cautiously announced.
The two countries signed an agreement on economic cooperation and a Croatian-Iranian business forum was held.
Economy Minister Tomislav Panenic, a member of the delegation, said that the Croatian delegation was one of the first to visit Iran after the lifting of UN sanctions.
"This is a challenge for companies that have already done business here as well as for those that see Iran as a new market," said Panenic.
The Iranian-Croatian business forum brought together more than 200 Iranian and Croatian business people, offering a new level of optimism for the two countries' future economic relations.
"This is a sign of the readiness of both the Croatian and the Iranian leadership to do their best to activate economic relations, which we have said do not reflect their real potential," Grabar-Kitarovic said, adding that she was confident the forum would facilitate the two countries' cooperation.
You have opened the door to Croatian companies and I am pleased to say that Croatian companies are ready and willing to use that opportunity, she told Iranian officials and business people attending the forum.
Minister Panenic told Croatian reporters that "Iranians expect the Croatian government to give significant support" to companies wishing to do business in Iran.
"They want the transfer of technology, joint investments... we have asked for removing administrative barriers that exist in Iran as well, for facilitating the cooperation that would be conducted by the chamber of commerce and our diplomatic office in Tehran... so that very soon we could have as many companies as possible negotiating projects," said Panenic, adding that he and the Iranian minister of industries had agreed to organise as soon as possible a meeting of the joint commission for economic cooperation.
The visit of the Croatian president and the Croatian business delegation was meant to help establish a framework for cooperation that should yield results in the medium and long term, but some Croatian companies, specifically TZV Gredelj and AD Plastik, are already about to sign first contracts in Iran.
"I am glad that TZV Gredelj is about to sign a major business contract and that is only the beginning," Croatian Chamber of Commerce head Luka Burilovic said at the forum, adding that it was particularly important that the Iranian market was offering cooperation also to small companies.
Panenic said that he and a part of the Croatian delegation visited the two biggest Iranian car manufacturers - Iran Khodro and Saipa.
"AD Plastik has already launched talks and they will continue them after the forum," the minister said.
Iran has a good regional position and can be a good strategic partner in the sale of Croatian products both in Iran and countries in its neighbourhood, said the head of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Mohsen Jalalpour.
He announced that he would soon visit Croatia and expressed hope concrete cooperation would be agreed then.
"We want to have relations with Croatia not only in the economic sector but also in education, tourism and culture," he said.
Croatia-Iran trade in 2015 was a mere USD 4.4 million.
Iran is one of the few countries with which Croatia has a trade surplus and Croatia's exports to Iran are seven times higher than imports from that country, but trade is still very modest and the potential for cooperation with that market of 80 million people is not being used sufficiently, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce has said.