Despite Sanctions, Iran Exports Hundreds of Millions Worth of Polyethylene to China

October 10, 2019


Saeed Ghasseminejad


Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Abdolnasser Hemmati, the head of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), announced last week that from March to September 2019 the CBI managed to provide $19 billion to pay for Iran’s imports, of which $11 billion came from the proceeds of its non-oil exports. According to Iran’s customs organization, Tehran exported $21 billion of non-oil goods in the aforementioned period, 10 percent less than in the same period the previous year. Assuming their accuracy, these figures indicate that Washington’s success in reducing Iran’s oil exports has not extended to other valuable export commodities, including the key petrochemical polyethylene.

Petrochemical products are among Iran’s top non-oil exports even though the industry has labored under sectoral sanctions since November 2018. Previous FDD analysis showed that in its first four months under sanctions, Tehran’s average monthly export of petrochemicals dropped by 18 percent in comparison to its level during the seven months before sanctions. According to Iranian customs data, in the last full year of the Persian calendar (March 2018 – March 2019), $14.1 billion of Iran’s non-oil exports, or 32 percent of the total, came from the petrochemical sector. Within that sector, $3.4 billion, or 24 percent, came from polyethylene, the most common plastic in the world, whose primary use is in packaging. In the March 2018-March 2019 reporting period, Iran exported $2.7 billion of polyethylene, or 80 percent of the total, to China.


Read the full report at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.