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EghtesadOnline: The trade channel between Iran and Switzerland, known as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Agreement (SHTA), is expected to be more viable than its counterparts and function even after a possible change of government in United States next year, head of the Iran-Switzerland Joint Chamber of Commerce said.

SHTA become operational in January with the aim to help import of food and medicine into Iran and supply Swiss goods without falling foul of US economic sanctions.

Sharif Nezam-Mafi recalled the arduous process of launching SHTA, saying the trade channel will remain relevant irrespective of the next ruler in the White House.

“In technical terms the SHTA is prepared. It has handled some transactions and companies have been instructed to work with this channel while training courses are being held,” he was quoted as saying by the news portal of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mining.

On the merits of SHTA, Nezam-Mafi said it is not susceptible to restrictions announced by the Financial Action Task Force, the international anti-money laundering watchdog.

The global watchdog on Feb 21 put Iran on its blacklist after Tehran failed to comply with its anti-terrorism funding norms. 

In addition, two Iranian private banks, namely the Middle East Bank and Saman Bank are allowed to handle transactions within the SHTA framework. 

Although Washington claims that humanitarian goods are “exempt” from the tough penalties, banking, insurance and shipping restrictions have practically made trade with Iran impossible. 

 

Swiss FM’s Tour Significant 

Nezam-Mafi said the ongoing visit of Switzerland’s foreign minister to Tehran is “highly critical”. In his opinion “political aspects aside, the Swiss minister’s trip at this juncture is highly critical in the financial and commercial context.” 

Ignazio Cassis arrived Saturday for talks on a range of issues, including SHTA. 

“It seems that Swiss companies are geared up for post- Trump and his ‘post-maximum pressure’ policy.  I believe Switzerland has always been at the forefront of being present in Iran, both during the [enforcement] of the nuclear agreement and after the US walked away.”

By “maximum pressure”, he was referring to a notorious campaign unleashed by the United States under Donald Trump that involves imposing the toughest ever sanctions against Iran. His administration has imposed penalties on other countries that trade with Tehran after the US unilaterally withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in May 2018.  

Drawing parallels between SHTA and a similar trade channel, known as Instrument in Support of Trade Exchange (INSTEX), designed by three European countries party to the landmark nuclear deal in 2015, he said INSTEX was never fully operational. 

 

Apolitical State

Nezam-Mafi ascribed the relative success of SHTA to “the apolitical approach of the Swiss.” 

INSTEX was set up in January 2019 by France, Germany and Britain, designed to evade US sanctions, facilitate trade between Iran and the European Union and other third parties to help keep the nuclear agreement alive. But for all practical purposes it has fallen on the wayside.

Nezam-Mafi described the commercial aspect of Cassis’s tour as very significant, particularly in the light of the possibility of change in the US administration after the November election. 

“The possibility of unfreezing Iranian money would increase if there is a change in Washington. Before the next administration’s stance [toward Iran] becomes clear, it is SHTA that will be active and functioning and a venue for using the blocked money”.  Regarding the likelihood of the controversial Trump getting another a four years, Nezam-Mafi said SHTA would still function because it was designed under tough economic sanctions imposed under Trump.

However, he added that the scale and scope of transactions if Trump’s win would be much lower than under his Democratic rival Joe Biden, who is expected to take a moderate stance toward Tehran.   

SHTA was created after the US Treasury Department granted waivers for using a portion of the Central Bank of Iran’s overseas resources to supply basic goods and pharmaceuticals to Iran. 

“While the US maintains a broad exception and authorization for conducting humanitarian trade with Iran, SHTA presents a voluntary option for facilitating payment for export of agricultural goods, food, medicine, and medical devices in a manner that ensures the utmost transparency,” the US government said earlier. 

 

Iran trade Switzerland Humanitarian Trade