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Dubai’s trade with Iran shrinks a third in 2012

DUBAI, March 25 (Reuters) – Dubai’s trade with Iran plunged by a third in 2012, the Dubai customs authority said on Monday, an indication of how much U.S. financial sanctions are hurting Iranian business with the rest of the world.

Dubai, across the Gulf from Iran and home to tens of thousands of ethnic Iranians, has long been a major commercial hub for Iran, serving in particular as a channel for consumer goods imports into that country.

This role was damaged after U.S. sanctions, imposed in late 2011 over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, made it legally dangerous for banks around the world to deal with Iranian institutions. Banks in Dubai sharply cut back Iran-related dealings.

Two-way trade between Dubai and Iran was roughly 25 billion dirhams ($6.8 billion) last year, said Ahmed Butti Ahmed, Director General of Dubai Customs. That implied a drop of about 31 percent from 36 billion dirhams in 2011.

Sharp depreciation of the Iranian currency, which lost more than half its value against the U.S. dollar last year, hurt business in addition to the reluctance of Dubai banks to get involved, Ahmed told a news conference.

He said merchandise trade with Iran now represented about 2 percent of Dubai’s overall trade. Iran’s merchandise exports and imports totalled $194 billion in 2011, according to the most recent data from the World Trade Organization.

The vast majority of trade between Iran and Gulf Arab states is routed through Dubai. Wooden boats, known as dhows, continue to carry some goods across the Gulf, Ahmed said.

“There is traditional trade still going on especially through dhows, like food and others…that do not fall under the embargo,” he said.