Iran’s unravelling carpet sales | Business and Economy News

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The historic Kashan bazaar in central Iran once sat on a major caravan route, its silk carpets known the world over. But for the weavers trying to sell their rugs under its ancient arches, their world has only unravelled since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and wider tensions with the West.

Carpet exports, which exceeded $2bn two decades ago, have plummeted to less than $50m in the last year, according to government customs figures. With fewer tourists and increasing difficulties in making international transactions, Iranian rugs are going unsold as some weavers work for as little as $4 a day.

Kashan’s carpet-weaving industry has been listed as an “intangible cultural heritage” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Many of the weavers are women, with the skills needed for the Farsi weaving style passed down from generation to generation, using materials such as vine leaves as well as pomegranate skins and walnuts to make the dyes for their threads. A single rug can take months to make.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the United States increased sanctions on Iran’s government over the siege on the US embassy on November 4, 1979 and other issues.

In 2000, the outgoing administration of US President Bill Clinton lifted a ban on the import of Iranian caviar, carpets and pistachios.

By 2010, with concerns rising over Iran’s nuclear programme, the US again banned Iranian-made Persian rugs. But in 2015, Iran struck a nuclear deal with world powers which reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium. The carpet trade was allowed once again.

Three years later, in 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal. Iran began enriching uranium at near weapons-grade levels and has been blamed for a series of attacks at sea and on land, including unprecedented drone and missile strikes targetting Israel last month.

For the carpet weavers, that meant their wares were once again banned under US law.

Making things worse is what carpet sellers see as a drop in tourists to Kashan as well. High-value American and European tourism in Iran has largely stopped, the daily Shargh newspaper warned last year. Ezzatollah Zarghami, Iran’s minister for tourism, insisted in April that six million tourists visited the country over the last 12 months, though that likely includes religious pilgrims as well as Afghans and Iraqis with lower spending power.

Even foreigners who do not visit the country face the challenge of Iran’s financial system, where no major international credit card works.

The collapse of the rial currency has left many Iranians unable to purchase the rugs. Wages in the industry are low, leading to a growing number of Afghan migrants working in workshops around Kashan.

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