Exports to Iran rose to $199.5m in the first eight months of 2012, from $150.8m during the same period last year.
European Union foreign ministers have agreed a new round of tough new financial and trade sanctions against Iran aimed at forcing a breakthrough in stalled talks on Iran’s contested nuclear programme.
The new package targets EU dealings with Iran’s banks, shipping and gas imports.
“This is a sign of our resolve,” William Hague, British foreign secretary, said on Monday in Luxembourg.
“That we will step up the pressure, we will intensify the pressure and we will continue to do so over the coming months unless negotiations succeed.”
“Iran is still playing for time despite intensive efforts for negotiation in recent months.“
– Guido Westerwelle, German Foreign Minister.
An EU asset freeze and travel ban will be imposed on 34 additional entities, particularly in the oil, gas and financial sectors, as well as on one person.
Details on those targeted will be released on Tuesday but a government minister is on the new blacklist, said diplomats.
The US welcomed the accord as further strengthening “international efforts to pressure and isolate the Iranian governmen”.
“Rallying the world to isolate Iran and increase the pressure on its leadership so that they stop pursuing a nuclear weapon has been a top priority” under President Barack Obama, Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said.
Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, said: “Iran is still playing for time despite intensive efforts for negotiation in recent months.”
“We don’t see sufficient willingness so far for substantial talks about the nuclear programme.”
‘Room for negotiation’
Catherine Ashton, EU’s foreign policy chief, said before Monday’s meeting that there was still “room for negotiations” between Iran and the P5+1 – the UK, US, France, China, Russia and Germany.
The P5+1 have asked Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 per cent.
Citing “serious and deepening concerns” over Iran’s nuclear drive, a statement approved by the ministers said the EU had “agreed additional restrictive measures in the financial, trade, energy and transport sectors”.
Previous sanctions, in particular a biting oil embargo that came into effect in July, are “quite clearly having an effect,” she told reporters.
Under the package, the EU bans all transactions between European and Iranian banks unless authorised in advance by national authorities, for example for humanitarian or medical reasons.
It also tightens existing sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran.
Imports of Iranian gas will be prohibited, a symbolic gesture since the amounts involved are small, but the move sits alongside the much more significant July ban on imports of Iranian oil.
The package also bans the use of EU vessels for transporting or storing Iranian oil.
After long denying the impact of Western economic sanctions, Iranian leaders have changed their rhetoric.
They acknowledge that the economy is suffering in particular due to the cut in oil exports and production, the main source of the country’s revenue.