A humanitarian channel to bring food and medicine to Iran has started trial operations, the Swiss government said on Thursday, helping supply Swiss goods to the struggling population without tripping over US sanctions.
The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) seeks to ensure that Swiss-based exporters and trading companies in the food, pharmaceutical, and medical sectors have a secure payment channel with a Swiss bank through which payments for their exports to Iran are guaranteed, a government statement said.
Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from the sanctions that Washington reimposed on Tehran after US President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.
But the US measures targeting everything from oil sales to shipping and financial activities have deterred several foreign banks from doing business with the Islamic Republic – including humanitarian deals.
The project, in the works since 2018, kicked off with an initial payment for a shipment to Iran of cancer drugs and drugs required for organ transplants worth 2.3 million euros ($2.55 million), the government said.
Geneva-based bank BCP and drugmaker Novartis took part in the pilot deal, with the humanitarian channel expected to be fully operational within weeks, a spokeswoman for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said.
Swiss and US officials had told Reuters last month that the channel could be up and running within months.
Politically neutral Switzerland has been working with the US and Iranian authorities and selected Swiss banks and Swiss companies on the plan. The US Treasury Department will provide banks involved with assurances that financial transactions can be processed without violating US law.
In return, exporters and banks will give the Swiss government detailed information about their business activities and partners in Iran. Bern will verify the information and share it with the US Treasury.
“The successful completion of these transactions provides a model for facilitating further humanitarian exports to Iran,” the US Treasury said in a separate statement.