China firms push for multi-billion dollar Iran rail and ship deals

Reza Mostafavi Tabatabaei Two Chinese firms are pushing for multi-billion dollar deals with Iran to build a high-speed railway and modernize its shipping fleet following the lifting of most sanctions against Tehran, sources with knowledge of the negotiations said.

State-run China National Transportation Equipment & Engineering Co Ltd (CTC) is close to finalizing an agreement on the $3 billion rail project to connect Tehran with the northeastern holy city of Mashhad, a Chinese source told Reuters.

Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co, which is also controlled by Beijing, has likewise been in discussions on building container ships and oil tankers for Iran, according to two sources who declined to be identified because the talks are still continuing.

China, Iran’s largest trading partner and long-time ally, has agreed to boost bilateral trade by more than 10 times to $600 billion in the next decade. With Iran no longer subject to international sanctions since January following its nuclear deal with world powers, Beijing sees the country as part of its policy to increase trade and open new markets for its firms as the domestic Chinese economy slows.

For the 930-km (580 mile) rail project, China’s Export and Import Bank (EXIM) is expected to fund 85 percent of the cost, with CTC providing engineering, procurement and construction services, said the source.

China EXIM Bank is Beijing’s designated policy lender for large trade deals and overseas investments by Chinese firms.

Neither the bank nor CTC responded immediately to requests for comment.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency last month reported a lower cost of $2 billion for the project, which it said would take 42 months to build.

TEHRAN VISITS

A spokesman at China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, parent of Dalian Shipbuilding, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, one of the sources estimated Iran would need $8–12 billion to modernize its fleet of container, cargo and oil tanker ships by around 2022.

Top Dalian shipyard executives have visited Tehran three times since January, meeting their counterparts at the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) — Iran’s top container and cargo carrier — and the country’s oil shipping operator National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC), the sources said.

IRISL and NITC were not immediately available for comment.

“We’ve had lots of contact with NITC,” said a Chinese shipbuilding executive, declining to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “Advanced ship models and solid technical support make Dalian Shipping a strong suitor for Iran.”

Previously Chinese shipyards, including Dalian, had built large oil tankers for NITC in an order worth $1.2 billion between 2012 and 2013, Reuters has reported.

State financing and lower costs would make China a dominant player in the Iranian shipping industry versus Asian rivals South Korea and Singapore, said Reza Mostafavi Tabatabaei, president of London-based ENEXD, a firm involved in oil and gas equipment business between the Middle East and China.

“They (IRISL) hope to become one of the biggest shipping lines in the world,” said Tabatabaei, adding that NITC wants to double its tanker capacity within the next six years by buying new ships and overhauling existing ones.

Major international companies are also rushing to establish a position in Iran as the Islamic Republic re-opens for business.

With 80 million people and annual output of about $400 billion, Iran is the biggest economy to rejoin the global trading system since Russia did so following the breakup of the Soviet Union over two decades ago.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu in BEIJING and Bozogmehr Sharafedin in DUBAI; additional reporting by Engen Tham in Shanghai; Editing by David Stamp)

This post was originally published on Reuters UK

The State of Health Care in Iran

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised health care for the entire country for the next four years. Rouhani asserts that the health care plan would be partially backed from funding created through cutting government subsidies.

Reza رضا مصطفوی طباطبایی

Rouhani spoke in a live broadcast interview on Wednesday, Sept. 30th about his mission to create a nation where Iranians are protected under a universal health insurance program. In route to bettering the country’s state of health, Rouhani said that at least five million citizens who are living under the poverty line will be attended to first.

Rouhani continued to say, “Our people face a number of difficulties in their health protection and when they enter a state-run hospital they usually have to obtain their medicine, tests and medical equipment from other places.”

Iran’s health program financing is often referred to as ‘mixed-financing’ because there are different financial privileges for different types of fundraising. General revenue financing, social health care insurance and out-of-pocket payments make up the health care system of Iran, but these plans mainly constitute secondary coverage for those residents insured by social insurance.

In Rouhani’s interview, he also apologized to Iranian citizens who have suffered through certain environments. With this proposed new health program, he plans to fix both health and social issues.

In the current healthcare system, it is difficult to reach universal health care, especially for those living in rural areas of Iran. There have been multiple studies that point to vast inefficiencies in the healthcare system in Iran’s rural society, representing an impairment of the current institutions put in place.

Rural healthcare is a priority at the World Health Organization (WHO), as the issue has led to much international discussion. Though half the world lives in rural areas, most do not receive the same care as their urban counterparts. Though the demands of these rural communities are demanding this inequality be resolved, there is difficulty in its implementation. Chiefly, the health problems in rural regions are different from what individuals experience in urban areas. In the ideal state of “universal health care,” one would expect there to be uniformity across all healthcare institutions, but this is simply not the case. More often, the impoverished regions obtain less quality in their healthcare systems.

Iran’s healthcare system is set to improve the health care institutions in rural areas by establishing health houses responsible for a specific rural region. These health houses are equipped with a staff of healthcare providers called, behvarz, that are employed by their local communities. The behvarz have been instrumental in improving the healthcare system in Iran though various rural community healthcare systems are experiencing difficulties trying to keep up with the changing landscape of Iran’s volatile political, social and environmental ecosystems.

Considering the difficulties that the healthcare system is facing in rural areas of Iran, individuals are encouraged to donate and volunteer. Funds and time can be donated in various capacities: education of healthcare providers, institutional developments, new health house construction, new technology development and community volunteering.

Reza Mostafavi Tabatabaei has focused his philanthropic endeavors on developing healthcare institutions in the underdeveloped regions of Iran. In assisting in the development of new health houses across the country, Reza has aided in improvements in the industry; however, there is still much more that can be done to improve the healthcare system in Iranian rural communities.