Iran turns to barter for food as sanctions cripple imports

Thu Feb 9, 2012 11:56am EST
 
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By Valerie Parent and Parisa Hafezi

PARIS/TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran is turning to barter - offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil - in return for food as new financial sanctions have hurt its ability to import basic staples for its 74 million people, commodities traders said Thursday.

Difficulty paying for urgent import needs has contributed to sharp rises in the prices of basic foodstuffs, causing hardship for Iranians with just weeks to go before an election seen as a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies.

New sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union to punish Iran for its nuclear program do not bar firms from selling Iran food but they make it difficult to carry out the international financial transactions needed to pay for it.

Reuters surveys of commodities traders around the globe show that since the start of the year, Iran has had trouble securing imports of basic staples like rice, cooking oil, animal feed and tea. Grain ships have been held at its ports, refusing to unload until payment can be received for cargo.

With Iran's rial currency tumbling, the prices of rice, bread and meat in Iranian bazaars have doubled or more in dollar terms in recent months.

Iranian grain importers have in the past side-stepped sanctions by booking business through the United Arab Emirates, traders said, but this option was cut off by the UAE government in response to sanctions.

Iran has been trading oil in currencies like Japanese yen, South Korean won and Indian rupees, but such deals make it difficult to repatriate profits.

Deals revealed Thursday appear to be among the first in which Iran has had to result to offering cashless barter to avoid sanctions, a sign of new urgency as it seeks to buy food and get around the financial restrictions.   Continued...

 
<p>A woman carrying a basket shops at a supermarket in northern Tehran, May 26, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl</p>