Europe rushes to secure trade deals with Iran after nuclear agreement

European ministers are flocking to Iran to snap up lucrative trade deals as Tehran opens up to the world following the historic nuclear deal announced yesterday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed today that he had been 'reinvited' to Tehran by his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, while Germany's Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel will head up a 60-strong business delegation due to arrive in the Iranian capital on Sunday.

However, the UK is at risk of falling behind. A Foreign Office spokesman had not comment on any planned visits to Iran by Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, who has not announced plans for any such trade trip since the deal was struck.

The deal means that crippling sanctions imposed since Iran's nuclear programme became public in 2002 by the European Union, the US and the UN will be lifted in return for curbs to Tehran's nuclear programme, including allowing independent inspectors access to its nuclear facilities.

The sanctions have had a destructive impact on Iran's oil-dominated economy, with exports falling from 2.2 million barrels per day to just 700,000 between 2011 and 2013.

However, the broad-ranging sanctions, which effectively proscribed trade between EU countries and Iran, hit Europe hard too.

A 2014 report by the National Iranian American Council claimed that Germany lost up to €66.3bn, Italy up to €39bn and France up to €31bn between 2010 and 2012 in potential export revenue.

Fabius told French radio today that Zarif had extended the invitation as the deal was clinched on Tuesday but did not provide a date for the trip.

"Trade is very important. It fosters growth. It's important for the Iranians, it's important for us," he said, according to AFP.

However, the foreign minister was forced to deny that potential trade benefits were a factor in striking the deal, which has been some 10 years in the making. Fabius said he and French President Francois Hollande did not do the deal "for commercial reasons" but "because we wanted to avoid nuclear proliferation".

According to French statistics, bilateral trade between the two countries has fallen from €4bn in 2004 to just €500m in 2013 as a result of sanctions.

France is likely to have a particularly interest in Iran's automotive industry, which accounts for 4% of the country's workforce, and in which French companies Renault and Peugeot were major players before the sanctions kicked in.

Meanwhile, German companies are hoping that Gabriel's visit, which will include meetings with President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian ministers of petroleum and trade, will signal the revival of trade relations between the two countries.

According to German news outlet DW, conservative estimates predict bilateral trade between the two countries will almost triple to €7bn in 2016 from €2.7bn last year.

"Germany is Iran's favourite business partner," said Michael Tockuss, chief executive of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, speaking to DW.

The nuclear deal was struck by Iran and the P5+1 group of countries - the US, the UK, France, Russia, China plus Germany). A spokesperson for the Russian ministry of economic development has said that the lifting of sanctions will have a positive impact on bilateral trade.

However, US companies are set to miss out on any potential trade boom, since US sanctions on Iran predate the discovery of its nuclear programme. To varying degrees, US sanctions have been imposed on Iran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at macroeconomic research company Capital Economics, says the deal will be beneficial for both the Iranians and Europeans in terms of trade.

"The key thing is that, in time, the lifting of sanctions will lead to a revival in Iran's economy," says Tuvey. "This will support greater demand from Iran for consumption goods and investment goods and these are products that countries in Europe would be able to supply to Iran."