Turkey, Iran's biggest natural gas customer, has been paying Iran for its exports with Turkish lira because sanctions prevent it from paying in dollars or euros.
Iranians then use those lira, held in Halkbank accounts, to buy gold in Turkey, and couriers carry bullion worth millions of dollars in hand luggage to Dubai, where it can be sold for foreign currency or shipped to Iran. Halkbank had also been processing a portion of India's payments for Iranian oil.
US officials sought to prevent Turkish gold exports, which indirectly pay Iran for its natural gas, from providing a financial lifeline to Tehran, largely frozen out of the global banking system by the Western sanctions.
To avoid the latest sanctions, Iran is now considering trading the oil and gas it exports to Turkey for Turkish industrial products, Turkey's Vatan daily reported on Tuesday. The bargain could create a sector worth $20 billion in the long run. The shipping industry is a candidate to profit most from this move by Iran and has already been taking measures to turn the crisis into a business opportunity.
A senior official working in a Turkish shipbuilding yard told Vatan that Iranians want to buy their products and they are particularly interested in purchasing coast guard boats, search and rescue vessels, river craft and small cargo ships. He added that demands like these have already been conveyed to Ankara and that they are awaiting answers from officials.
Officials in the shipping industry say the demand from Iranians have already amounted to up to $3 billion.
Turkish Shipbuilders' Association (GİSBİR) chairman Murat Kıran also confirmed the demands from Iran in his interview with Vatan. Kıran stressed that international investment is creating new opportunities for Turkish businesses. He said if Ankara approves the bargain, the sector will have a chance to revive its business.
The report said the export of shipping industry has significantly declined with a 60 percent drop to $1.1 billion due to a decline in global demand. The ship-for-oil bargain with Iran will make the sector significantly more vibrant.
The report added that Turkish coast guard boats and search and rescue vessels are world-class brands.
Different types of Turkish boats are already being exported to Romania, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Georgia, Egypt and Pakistan.
Iran claims that its nuclear aims are purely peaceful and that it enriches uranium to a higher grade to make isotopes for medical purposes. Tighter US sanctions are killing off Turkey's gold-for-gas trade with Iran and have stopped Turkish state-owned lender Halkbank from processing other nations' energy payments to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil producer.
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan signaled earlier this month a decline in the Iran gold trade while he said Turkey would not be swayed by US pressure to halt gold exports to Iran.
Washington says Tehran is enriching uranium to levels that could be used in nuclear weapons and has been trying to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran.
Turkey -- like China, India and Japan -- is heavily dependent on imported energy and, while it has cut back on oil from Iran, has made clear it cannot simply stop buying Iranian oil and gas.
Turkey, which is not a major gold producer, was a net gold, jewelry and precious metals importer in 2011 but swung to being a net exporter last year. Analysts said Iranian demand had prompted both the high imports two years ago -- which were largely sold on to Iran -- and the surge in exports last year. Gold exports to Iran rose to $6.5 billion in 2012, more than 10 times the level of 2011, while exports to the United Arab Emirates -- much of it for onward shipment to Iran or conversion to hard currency -- rose to $4.6 billion from $280 million. Overall Turkish bullion exports fell to 10.5 tons in December from 15.2 tons in November.