Rouhani presents Iran budget, says U.S. sanctions to hit lives, growth

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday presented a $47 billion state budget, about a third of it consisting of subsidies for low income groups, saying U.S. sanctions would affect people’s lives and economic growth but not bring the government to its knees.

FILE PHOTO: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in May and reimposed sanctions on it, including on its vital oil industry.

“America’s goal is to bring Iran’s Islamic system to its knees… and it will fail in this, but sanctions will no doubt affect people’s lives, and the country’s development and economic growth,” Rouhani told parliament in a speech carried live on state television.

He gave the value of the nominally balanced draft budget, excluding the spending of state enterprises, at about 4,700 trillion rials for the next Iranian year, which starts on March 21.

That figure is up from about 3,700 trillion rials he had proposed for this year, but the new budget is effectively worth about half of this year’s because of the weakening of Iran’s currency.

Under the unofficial exchange rate used on the free market, the budget is worth about $47 billion.

Rouhani said state employees would get a 20 percent pay rise next year, and the budget included $14 billion in subsidies to provide cheap basic goods such as food and medicine, up from $13 billion in this year’s state budget.

Officials have said the budget is designed to provide for the basic needs of low-income groups, including state employees and pensioners, support production and employment and seek to relaunch thousands of stalled state projects with the help of private investors.

Rouhani called for trimming the state sector and curbing the government’s dependence on oil income, which is forecast at 1,425 trillion rials in the proposed budget.

Officials have said the budget calculations were based on a forecast crude price of $50-$54 per barrel and exports of 1 to 1.5 million barrels per day, down from a peak of almost 3 million bpd in mid-2018.

“If the private sector was active in the country …, and if the budget did not rely heavily on oil, the impact of sanctions would have been much less,” Rouhani said.

A separate draft budget for state companies, institutions and banks allocates them a total of $127 billion.

Rouhani’s speech was interrupted by parliament members, who Iranian news agencies said were mostly from the southwestern Khuzestan province and were protesting over shortages of drinking water in their region.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Hugh Lawson

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