The economy of Iran is a mixed and transition economy with a large public sector. Some 60 percent of the economy is centrally planned. It is dominated by oil and gas production, although over 40 industries are directly involved in the Tehran Stock Exchange, one of the best performing exchanges in the world over the past decade. With 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 15 percent of its gas reserves, Iran is considered an “energy superpower”. Iran has fifth highest total estimated value of natural resources, valued at US$27.3 trillion in 2016.
It is the world’s eighteenth largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) and twenty-seventh by nominal gross domestic product. The country is a member of Next Eleven because of its high development potential.
Mines and metals
Mineral production contributed 0.6% of the country’s GDP in 2011, a figure that increases to 4% when mining-related industries are included. Gating factors include poor infrastructure, legal barriers, exploration difficulties, and government control over all resources. Iran is ranked among the world’s 15 major mineral-rich countries.
Although the petroleum industry provides the majority of revenue, about 75% of all mining sector employees work in mines producing minerals other than oil and natural gas. These include coal, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, chromium, barite, salt, gypsum, molybdenum, strontium, silica, uranium, and gold, the latter of which is mainly a by-product of the Sar Cheshmehcopper complex operation. The mine at Sar Cheshmeh in Kerman Province is home to the world’s second largest store of copper. Large iron ore deposits exist in central Iran, near Bafq, Yazd and Kerman. The government owns 90% of all mines and related industries and is seeking foreign investment. The sector accounts for 3% of exports.
Iran has recoverable coal reserves of nearly 1.9 billion short tonnes. By mid-2008, the country produced about 1.3 million short tonnes of coal annually and consumed about 1.5 million short tonnes, making it a net importer. The country plans to increase hard-coal production to 5 million tons in 2012 from 2 million tons in November 2008.
The main steel mills are located in Isfahan and Khuzestan. Iran became self-sufficient in steel in 2009. Aluminum and copper production are projected to hit 245,000 and 383,000 tons respectively by March 2009. Cement production reached 65 million tons in 2009, exporting to 40 countries.
Agriculture and foodstuffs
Wheat, the most important crop, is grown mainly in the west and northwest whilst rice is the major crop in the Caspian region.
Agriculture contributes just over 11% to the gross national product and employs a third of the labor force. About 11% of Iran’s land is arable, with the main food-producing areas located in the Caspian region and in northwestern valleys. Some northern and western areas support rain-fed agriculture, while others require irrigation. Primitive farming methods, overworked and under-fertilized soil, poor seed and water scarcity are the principal obstacles to increased production. About one third of total cultivated land is irrigated. Construction of multipurpose dams and reservoirs along rivers in the Zagros and Alborz mountains have increased the amount of water available for irrigation. Agricultural production is increasing as a result of modernization, mechanization, improvements to crops and livestock as well as land redistribution programs.
Non-food products include wool, leather, and silk. Forestry products from the northern slopes of the Alborz Mountains are economically important. Tree-cutting is strictly controlled by the government, which also runs a reforestation program. Rivers drain into the Caspian Sea and are fished for salmon, carp, trout, pike, and sturgeon that produce caviar, of which Iran is the largest producer.
Since the 1979 revolution, commercial farming has replaced subsistence farming as the dominant mode of agricultural production. By 1997, the gross value reached $25 billion. Iran is 90% self-sufficient in essential agricultural products, although limited rice production leads to substantial imports. In 2007 Iran reached self-sufficiency in wheat production and for the first time became a net wheat exporter. By 2003, a quarter of Iran’s non-oil exports were of agricultural products, including fresh and dried fruits, nuts, animal hides, processed foods, and spices. Iran exported $736 million worth of foodstuffs in 2007 and $1 billion (~600,000 tonnes) in 2010. A total of 12,198 entities are engaged in the Iranian food industry, or 12% of all entities in the industry sector. The sector also employs approximately 328,000 people or 16.1% of the entire industry sector’s workforce.
Iran has a diversified and broad industrial base. In 1998, the United Nations classified Iran’s economy as “semi-developed”.
Iran’s major manufactured products are petrochemicals, steel, Aluminium and copper products. Other important manufactures include automobiles, home and electric appliances, telecommunications equipment, cement and industrial machinery. Iran operates the largest operational population of industrial robots in West Asia. Other products include paper, rubber products, processed foods, leather products and pharmaceuticals.
Iran has a long tradition of producing artisanal goods including Persian carpets, ceramics, copperware, brassware, glass, leather goods, textiles and wooden artifacts. The country’s carpet-weaving tradition dates from pre-Islamic times and remains an important industry contributing substantial amounts to rural incomes. An estimated 1.2 million weavers in Iran produce carpets for domestic and international export markets. More than $500 million worth of hand-woven carpets are exported each year, accounting for 30% of the 2008 world market. Around 5.2 million people work in some 250 handicraft fields and contribute 3% of GDP.
Energy, gas, and petroleum
Iran possesses 10% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 15% of its gas reserves. Domestic oil and gas along with hydroelectric power facilities provide power. Energy wastage in Iran amounts to six or seven billion dollars per year, much higher than the international norm. Iran recycles 28% of its used oil and gas, whereas some other countries reprocess up to 60%. In 2008 Iran paid $84 billion in subsidies for oil, gas and electricity. It is the world’s third largest consumer of natural gas after United States and Russia. In 2010 Iran completed its first nuclear power plant at Bushehr with Russian assistance.
Tourism and travel
Although tourism declined significantly during the war with Iraq, it has subsequently recovered. About 1,659,000 foreign tourists visited Iran in 2004 and 2.3 million in 2009 mostly from Asian countries, including the republics of Central Asia, while about 10% came from the European Union and North America.
The most popular tourist destinations are Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz. In the early 2000s the industry faced serious limitations in infrastructure, communications, industry standards and personnel training. The majority of the 300,000 tourist visas granted in 2003 were obtained by Asian Muslims, who presumably intended to visit important pilgrimage sites in Mashhad and Qom. Several organized tours from Germany, France and other European countries come to Iran annually to visit archaeological sites and monuments. In 2003 Iran ranked 68th in tourism revenues worldwide. According to UNESCO and the deputy head of research for Iran Travel and Tourism Organization (ITTO), Iran is rated among the “10 most touristic countries in the world”. Domestic tourism in Iran is one of the largest in the world.