By : Ali Talebzadeh
Word Count : 896
Mohsen Bahrami is now the spokesman for the Committee to Combat Smuggling of Consumer Goods and Hard Currency. He took this post after abdicating from his presidency of the State Inspectorate. In an interview, he speaks about the programs followed up by the committee.
Q: Can you tell us about how this committee will deal with the scourge of smuggling?
A: This committee is charged with coordinating the affairs between different commercial bodies in order to facilitate their tasks. The committee does not work independently. The obstacles to official trade have to be identified. Our authorities have so far tried in vain to eradicate goods smuggling by toughening physical actions. But I have to note that smuggling results from economic woes which emerged after the end of the 1989-1988 war. Before the country accepted to sign UN-brokered ceasefire with Iraq, we imported our goods at low prices.
Q: What happened afterwards?
A: Smuggling of goods started to take shape as we moved to unify the foreign exchange rate. Now the gap between official and unofficial trade has widened. Once we produced television at a cost price of 30,000 rials and no smuggler could import at lower rate.
Q: How does such difference in prices emerge?
A: These differences which give rise to smuggling come from the ailing structure of our economy. Our domestic production does not face any competition because our national currency has been depreciated.
Q: What do you think about the backward technology in our products?
A: Yes, you are right. We have to pay a lot to gain technological savvy we need for production in our country. Moreover, the productivity rate is low in our workshops and of course our faulty Labor Law should take the blame. The employers are not legally allowed to dismiss unproductive laborers and therefore quality drops.
Q: Many are of the view that heavy punishment is needed to dissuade the smugglers. What do you think?
A: Lack of heavy and deterring punishment may stir goods smuggling in the country. Many smugglers have been acquitted because our penal code does not contain heavy penalty for convicts. We are now mulling a permanent anti-smuggling law. We did not have a clear definition of goods smuggling up to last year. We have reached agreement with the judiciary on the point that a permanent judicial officer serves our committee. We have set up prosecutor’s office to deal with goods smuggling in Tehran and fifteen other smuggling-prone provinces of the country. I regret to say that our customs managers, police and judicial officers who are dealing with such offenses get threats.
Q: Do you have any program to toughen punishments against smugglers?
A: We should make our maximal use of the capacities of our current law. We have to set up a databank and deal seriously with those who are indulged in smuggling of goods. In the meantime, we will ease official trade.
Q: The parliament is moving to ban the advertising of foreign products. It is impractical because many countries have trade exchanges with Iran. What do you think?
A: We cannot ban the advertising of all foreign products because we need publicity to join the World Trade Organization. We are supposed to ban the advertising of the products smuggled into the country. We will not allow any entity represent a foreign company without permission. We have taken steps to this effect. The municipalities, the state television and radio and the press refuse to accept suspicious publicity inserts.
Q: Many goods have no tariff but they are smuggled into the country. Why?
A: Mobile headsets are a good example here. We have to facilitate official trade and work on deterring policies.
Q: How do free zones and border markets contribute to smuggling of goods?
A: We have set up many free zones in the country. They were supposed to process exports but now they have become good places for imports. Border settlers were supposed to enjoy facilities from border markets but now smugglers are gaining benefits.
Q: Which provinces are the most smuggling-prone ones?
A: They are fifteen provinces located in the south, northwest, east and northeast. Hormuzgan province located off Persian Gulf waters is also a good destination for smuggled goods coming from Dubai. Khorasan, Sistan Baluchistan, West Azarbaijan, Kermanshah, Hormuzgan, Bushehr and Kurdestan report many cases of smuggling. We are installing two x-ray posts in Imam Khomeini, Rajaie and Astara ports in order to monitor our imports.
Q: What do you think about establishment of customs administrations in the free zones?
A: We do not impose customs regulations at the entry gates into the free zones but we control the transactions. In cooperation with the Ministry of Intelligence, we have set up a body to do the task.
Q: Do you have any special plan to deal with smuggling of fuel?
A: We have taken preliminary steps and now barrels containing up to 220 liters of fuel are allowed for export. We have also established specialized labs for oil products at border posts.
Q: What programs do you have to root smuggling out?
A: We should first make amendments to our regulations governing the taxation system, foreign exchange rate, banking facilities and labor law.