Iran's president urges deeper Algeria trade ties

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Algerian businesses on Monday to boost trade and investment links between the two OPEC member states, saying cars, petrochemicals and gas were sectors ripe for development.

Speaking to Algerian businessmen on the first day of a two day visit to the north African country, Ahmadinejad said the ample energy resources of both oil and gas powers provided a good basis for expanding cooperation.

“Iran is determined to remove all obstacles to developing economic, trade and investment relations. We are ready to transfer Iran expertise to Algerian businessmen,” he said.

Annual two-way trade is still small, at $7 million a year.

Ahmadinejad gave as examples of Iranian expertise Iran’s large car industry, and said both nations could learn from each other in petrochemicals and gas. He did not elaborate.

Iran is home to the Middle East’s largest carmaker, state-owned Iran Khodro, which has partnerships with global carmakers, including a joint venture with France’s Renault to make the Logan, sold in Iran as the Tondar-90.

Iran and Algeria, respectively the world’s second and seventh largest natural gas reserve holders, also want to share expertise in various areas of gas including production, marketing and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) business.

Ahmadinejad was welcomed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika at Algiers airport and held meetings with him and Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the officials APS news agency said.

Iranian ambassador to Algiers Hussein Abdi Abyanah told Algerian newspapers last week Ahmadinejad and Bouteflika would not discuss the subject of Iran’s nuclear program but focus instead on other questions such as Iraq and bilateral relations.

Washington and other Western powers suspect Iran wants to use that program to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies it, saying it is only to generate electricity. Algeria supports Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes.

Abdi Abyanah told Algerian newspapers last week there were “big possibilities” of cooperation between Sonatrach, Algeria’s state energy firm, and Iranian energy companies.

Sonatrach is interested in developing part of Iran’s South Pars gas field, a senior Iranian oil official said in June.

Abyanah said an air agreement was envisaged that would allow direct flights between Algiers and Tehran.

Sonatrach, Africa’s biggest firm by revenue, supplies 20 and 13 percent respectively of U.S. and European LNG needs.

LNG plants cool gas into liquid so it can be shipped beyond the range of pipelines, but Iran’s efforts to build its own LNG facilities have faced delays, in part because U.S. sanctions on Tehran deter investors and block access to some technology.