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Iran: tomato paste exports remain highly irregular

21/07/2023 - François-Xavier Branthôme - Lire en français
After two years marked by extreme variations in the results of foreign trade in the tomato products sector, the 2022/2023 marketing year saw a return to normal for the Iranian industry. With 163,000 metric tonnes (mT) of paste exported between June 2022 and May 2023, the last marketing year saw a continuation of the performances recorded up to 2019/2020, before the pandemic triggered an explosion in demand (233,000 mT in 2020/2021, an annual variation of 63%), followed by a sudden collapse in foreign activity (110,000 mT in 2021/2022, down 53% on the previous year). Although the level of foreign operations in the Iranian supply chain is generally quite irregular, the changes recorded over the last three or four years far exceed the rises and falls linked to the usual fluctuations in agricultural and industrial movements, or those linked to the uneven purchasing dynamics of a number of countries that are strategic buyers of Iranian products.

The most important buyer countries are located in a restricted commercial sphere, which includes neighboring countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan) or countries that are nonetheless geographically close (Syria, Emirates, Kuwait, Armenia, etc.), as well as a few more distant destinations (Russia, China, Italy, etc.). Overall, Iranian exports remain focused on less than half a dozen markets, which have accounted for an average 85% of the quantities shipped over the past three years (see additional information at the end of this article).

Iranian operations in the canned tomatoes sector are practically non-existent. Data provided by the country's customs services nonetheless show a positive trade balance, with exports of 135 tonnes in 2019/2020 and 276 tonnes in 2022/2023, the vast majority destined for the Iraqi market.

The balance of trade for sauces is also far from the tonnages recorded for paste: long capped at around 2,000 mT per year, the quantities involved have seen strong growth in recent years, raising the level of foreign sales to around 5,700 mT in 2021/2022 and 5,000 mT in 2022/2023. The destination outlets are the same as those for tomato pastes, with a very marked presence in Iraq (78% of total quantities on average over the last five years), and to a lesser extent in Turkmenistan (10%) and Afghanistan (7%).

All in all, Iran's trade balance for tomato products regularly shows a surplus, driven mainly by foreign sales of tomato paste. Paradoxically, however, the value of this surplus has been eroded considerably in recent years, as a result of variations in the quantities mobilized, but also due to a sharp decline in the price of Iranian products : according to figures provided by the country's customs authorities, the unit value of a tonne of paste will have fallen from around USD 1,570 /mT in 2013/2014 to around USD 570 /mT in 2022/2023.
As a result, the trade surplus, which reached almost USD 210 million in 2016/2017, stood at just USD 95 million last year.

Some complementary data
Evolution of quantities processed by the Iranian industry over the last twenty years; in the absence of reliable data, processing intentions for 2023 are estimated at around 1.3 million mT.


Average annual Iranian exports of tomato pastes over three years

Sources: TDM, WPTC
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