TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s carpet industry does not fear possible U.S. sanctions against one of the country’s main export earners as buyers would be able to circumvent such an import ban, a senior executive said on Sunday.
“We have no worries,” said Jalal Eddin Bassam, managing director of the state-owned Iran Carpet Company. The Persian carpet would “find its way” into the United States, he said.
The famed Persian floor covering may be under pressure from lower-cost Asian rivals copying traditional patterns, but Bassam suggested it retained its attraction for wealthy Westerners looking for special quality and raw materials.
“People prefer to buy expensive Persian carpets rather than cheap Indian or Pakistani carpets in America,” he told Reuters in his office in downtown Tehran where rugs in elaborate designs adorn the marble floors.
As part of U.S. efforts to pressure the Islamic Republic to halt sensitive nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making atomic bombs, proposed new legislation would reimpose a total ban on Iranian imports, including carpets.
If the bill sponsored by California Democrat Tom Lantos becomes law it would reverse a “goodwill gesture” by former President Bill Clinton in 2000 that allowed in rugs, and certain other goods, from the homeland of the Persian carpet.
The draft, which won overwhelming approval from a congressional committee in June, also would force President George W. Bush to impose sanctions on energy firms dealing with oil-rich Iran. The measure still needs approval by the U.S. Congress.
Bassam said the United States and Germany were Iran’s largest markets for top-notch hand-woven carpets — accounting for 60 percent of $460 million worth of annual sales abroad. Total Iranian carpet exports amounted to $635 million in 2005.
But he said past experience indicated any new punitive measures would not have a major negative impact on an industry which boasts a tradition dating back 2,500 years and employs 1.4 million people.
“It may have a small impact in the beginning, but we find new markets, new ways to take the carpets inside the United States,” he said, adding U.S. customers during past sanctions bought carpets in other countries before taking them home.
“They do it, we don’t do it, we don’t do anything wrong.”
Despite his apparent lack of concern about the prospect of renewed U.S. sanctions, he acknowledged his industry faced tough competition from India, Pakistan and China as well as problems with rising wage costs at home.
Iran remains a leader in the most expensive end of the market. But its position in the $10 billion global industry including also machine-made carpets has slipped five places to number eight since 2001, with Belgium on top.
Bassam said he was still optimistic about the industry’s future, pointing to its special wool and natural dyes, but said it needed to keep prices in check while maintaining quality.
It may have difficulties, but is “not in crisis”, he said.