Trade between Iran and the European Union is in sharp decline, official Iranian figures show. The drop comes despite EU’s ongoing efforts to bypass the U.S. sanctions. In November, President Donald Trump imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran’s oil, shipping and banking sectors.

The news comes at a time when the EU is trying to throw a lifeline to the regime. Tehran’s European trading partners, mainly Germany and France, are working to set up a non-dollar trading mechanism to shield their companies and banking institutions from secondary sanctions for doing business in Iran.

The EU-backed Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) will work like a barter system where Iran’s oil and gas exports could be offset against the country’s imports from the bloc’s 27 member states.

Prague-based Radio Free Europe reported the declining EU-Iran trade figures:

Iran-EU trade turnover has declined significantly since the United States reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran, including oil exports and banking.

According to official statistics, released by Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, European Union’s exports to the country declined 19% year-on-year to $6.792 billion during nine months of current Iranian fiscal year, which started on March 21, 2018.

Iran’s non-oil exports to EU also shrank 19% to $868 million.

U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and imposed financial and oil sanctions on the country in August and November respectively. Iran’s exports to US plunged to zero in October-September 2018, but the country’s imports from US indicate a huge jump.

With the second round of U.S. sanctions coming into effect last November, Iran’s oil trade with Asian buyers is on a decline too. Tehran’s oil imports to Asian countries have dropped to their lowest level in almost five years. South Korea and Japan have cut Iranian oil imports to zero, and India’s intake is down by 40 percent. These figures are expected to rebound temporarily after the U.S. granted a six-month waiver to these countries last month, allowing them to buy Iranian oil. With these exemptions expiring in May 2019, Iran will find it difficult to sell its crude oil in the open market.

China and Russia are expected to come to the regime’s rescue. In recent months, Moscow has boosted bilateral trade with Tehran. State-owned Chinese companies are also ramping up oil and gas drilling operations in Iran.

The decline on the EU-Iran trade can be attributed to European companies fleeing the Iranian market and pulling out their investments in the wake of U.S. sanctions. The Trump administration has vowed to go after foreign companies that violate sanctions on Iran. “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” President Trump tweeted in August. German car maker Daimler, French oil company Total, and Danish shipping giant Maersk are among the leading European companies to shelve their investment plans in Iran.

Despite political saber-rattling by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel, German and French banks are also pulling the plug on trade with Iran. An EU gambit to ‘de-risk’ transactions in Iran through its lending arm, the European Investment Bank, has fallen flat as well.

While the EU has been busy devising plans to save the Iranian regime from financial bankruptcy, Tehran has been directing terrorist operations on European soil. Earlier this week, European officials accused Iran of orchestrating assassinations and bomb plots against exiled regime critics in the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. Much like the Obama administration, the European political class, too, lacks the ability to distinguish between a friend and a foe.

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