Since Donald Trump backed out of the JCPOA deal with Iran, the country’s banana importers have faced familiar hurdles in sourcing fruit 

Since the unilateral abandonment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by the US in 2018, and the return of crippling sanctions on Iran, imports of bananas into the country have once again experienced major turbulence, with volumes from key origins like the Philippines and Ecuador severely affected.

Alireza Emami

Alireza Emami

The JCPOA had been agreed in July 2015 between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (made up of China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US), allowing inspectors to closely monitor Iran’s nuclear energy programme. Following US president Donald Trump’s move to bin the deal, “everything screeched to a halt in Iran,” according to Alireza Emami, CEO of Iranian trader Zarrin Group. “Shipping lines like Maersk and CMA CGM stopped their services,” he explained.

As a result, exports of bananas from Ecuador and Philippines have dropped dramatically since 2019. “Direct exports of Ecuadorian bananas to Iran have risen significantly every year between 2015 and 2018, but since 2019 they have been shrinking,” said Emami.

Meanwhile, imports from Turkey, which reexports Latin American bananas, mostly Ecuadorian, to Iran across the countries’ land border, have increased considerably three times in the past ten years, in 2015, 2016 and 2021.

“Imports from India have also grown markedly twice over the last decade, in 2016 and 2021,” said Emami. “There were some sporadic banana imports from other origins like Mozambique, Somalia, Guatemala, Colombia, Vietnam and Indonesia, but after 2018 they almost all stopped.”

Import volumes from the Philippines have also been falling since 2019, according to Zarrin, as have reshipments from the country through the UAE.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has started to supply bananas to Iran since 2020. How supplies will develop in the coming years, however, is evidently hard to foresee.

In 2014, Emami delivered a speech at the International Banana Symposium in Davao, Philippines, on the global and Iranian banana market. There he predicted that Ecuador would significantly develop its share of the Iranian banana market at the expense of the Philippines.

According to Iranian customs data, Philippine banana exports to Iran fell by 11 per cent in 2015, while Ecuador recorded a 206 per cent rise.

Emami had been right. What he hadn’t predicted, like most onlookers, was the arrival of Trump.