French Shipping Giant With Services Linking Iran and East Asia is Set to Withdraw

By Fayçal Benhassain | July 11, 2018 | 1:08 AM EDT

CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container shipping line, says it will withdraw from Iran. Pictured is the company’s vessel, Kerguelen. (Photo: CMA CGM)

Paris ( – In another major blow to the regime in Tehran, the world’s third biggest container line has signaled it is leaving Iran to avoid falling foul of sanctions being reimposed by the Trump administration after its withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Rodolphe Saadé, CEO of the French shipping giant CMA CGM, announced the decision during a weekend economic conference in south-east France.

“Because of the Trump administration, we have decided to stop serving Iran,” said Saadé, whose company was among the first major businesses to return to the Iran market after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into effect in early 2016.

That year CMA CGM signed a protocol with Iran Shipping Lines to exchange or lease spaces for vessels, operate joint shipping lines, and cooperate on the use of port terminals.

The French company has three direct services, linking Iran with ports in China, Taiwan and South Korea.

CMA CGM is not the only European shipping company stopping business with Tehran. Danish AP-Holler Maersk, the world’s fourth-largest, has also announced its withdrawal.

The reinstatement of U.S. sanctions threatens numerous French projects in Iran. The first tranche, targeting the automobile and civil aviation sectors, are set to be restored on August 6, followed by those relating to the energy and financial sectors on November 4.

French automaker PSA Group, which manufactures Peugeot vehicles, announced last month that it was preparing its withdrawal from Iran.

The company had said the previous month that it was in contact with the American authorities hoping to get a waiver to enable it to continue its activity in Iran, and that it had the support of the French government.

The planned pullout comes after the company’s sales in Iran skyrocketed in 2017, with 500,000 vehicles sold there.

Pierre Gattaz, the president of the French federation of entrepreneurs, said during a recent meeting on the Iran sanctions issue that PSA has no choice but to leave, “because you face this American decision, the sanctions. If you do not do what the Americans ask, you can be punished heavily with penalties or prohibition selling on the U.S. market or in dollars.”

Another French car maker, Renault, has signaled its intention to stay in Iran, where the company is reported to have sold 160,000 cars in Iran last year, out of a total of 3.76 million.

French oil and gas company Total S.A. has also decided to leave Iran, where it was set to invest billions of dollars in a project to develop a section of the South Pars gas field, the world’s biggest, in partnership with China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation.

In a statement in May it said, “Total has always been clear that it cannot afford to be exposed to any secondary sanction, which might include the loss of financing in dollars by U.S. banks for its worldwide operations (U.S. banks are involved in more than 90 % of Total’s financing operations), the loss of its U.S. shareholders (U.S. shareholders represent more than 30 % of Total’s shareholding) or the inability to continue its US operations (U.S. assets represent more than 10 billion dollars of capital employed).”

Meanwhile Airbus, which in 2016 signed agreements to sell around 100 aircraft to Iran at a cost of $20.8 billion, has not yet announced its plans.

“We are carefully analyzing this announcement of sanctions and will assess next steps in line with our internal policies and in full compliance with the sanctions and export control rules,” Airbus communications manager, Rainer Ohler said in a release last month.

French banks are encouraging their clients to leave the country, according to a recent article in the business newspaper Les Echos.

Since the JCPOA came into effect, French exports to Iran have tripled, reaching 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) in 2017, according to diplomatic sources.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian wrote to the U.S. government last month, pleading for exemptions for companies that signed contracts with Iran after the nuclear deal was concluded.

There has been no public comment from the two ministries yet about any response.

Trump last May withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA, after U.S. diplomats working with European counterparts were unable to “fix” what he saw as its major flaws.

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