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Trade zones need access

Iran : Business sectors

Two of Iran's free trade zones are coming to life and are urgently in need of infrastructure investment.

Iran's free trade zones were once described by a British diplomat as the 'new Hong Kong' for British investors. Twelve years later zones such as Qeshm Island and Chabahar have not become thriving industrial hubs, but they are now developing fast. Interest is growing from those eager to gain a foothold in Iran attracted by 15 years' exemption from customs duties.

Now that foreign banks are allowed to set up branches in the free zones, UK banks are expected to do so with the Royal Bank of Scotland rumoured to be interested.

Qeshm Shell recently boosted Qeshm Island, just off the Persian coast, by establishing a facility for fabrication of oil and gas platforms.

Local contractor Iran Apron Company has restarted its 'Sam & Zal' housing project of 8,000 apartments after two years' hiatus, sensing an upturn in the island's fortunes. And 1,000 of the reinforced cement three story blocks are finished with 500 sold.

With the free zone buzzing again after two years of quiet the Qeshm Free Zone Administration wants investors to fund a 2km steel suspension bridge to the nearby mainland port Bandar Abbas that is optimistically shown on the map already. Other proposals include a trading centre and desalination plant.

Chabahar The eight year old Chabahar free zone in the south east corner of Iran has been boosted by the news that Rover is to build an assembly plant there for a new Iranian car.

This is one of 60 new industrial projects planned for the 140km 2free zone.

As a handy trading post placed near to Pakistan, India and Afghanistan to the east and the former Soviet territories to the north, it will be developed as a major transport hub.

Plans include a 1,600km railway to come down to Chabahar from Sarahks on the Turkmenistan border. A $2bn electric railway and a diesel alternative at half the price are being explored. The Chabahar organisation will seek tenders from foreign consortia for a build operate and transfer deal.

A £46.6M airport inside the free zone is also needed and work is continuing to transform the two jetties at Chabahar port into a concrete mega port quadrupling capacity to 100,000t.

INFOPLUS For more information on Chabahar contact the Chabahar Free Zone office in Tehran: Chairman: Mohammad Taghi Salehi: 0098 21 879 6768.

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