EghtesadOnline: Head of the Iran-Switzerland Joint Chamber of Commerce says with a new government in the United States "sensitivities" toward the Iran-Switzerland financial channel has declined.
The trade channel, known as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), was designed to facilitate food and medicine trade with Iran.
It started trial operations in January 2020, helping supply Swiss goods to Iran without violating Donald Trump’s economic blockade against Iran. However, in essence it was a non-starter seemingly due to the US sanctions.
"With a new administration in the US, sensitivities toward the financial channel have declined," Sharif Nezam-Mafi told the state news agency IRNA. He did not elaborate.
Pointing to the then economic ties between the two countries, he said "Swiss firms were among the few European companies that did not leave Iran during the sanctions and the maximum pressure" policy of the previous US ruler. "Iran-Swiss trade has a history of more than 200 years and the country never left Iran's market.”
The “maximum pressure” he was referring to was the infamous campaign unleashed by Trump to cripple the Iranian economy and involved the toughest ever US restrictions against any country. Trump and company imposed penalties on countries that traded with Tehran after he unilaterally withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018.
Nezam-Mafi said banking sanctions and the bloated bureaucracy in Tehran constitute the two main obstacles to expanding Swiss-Iran trade.
Pointing to the change of guard in Washington, he expressed the hope that "Iranian banks would be able to function smoothly through SHTA".
In the last round of banking sanctions in October, the US government blacklisted 18 Iranian banks to totally cut off the country from the international financial system.
With President Joe Biden in office analysts are hopeful that the billions of dollars of Iranian money blocked in overseas banks will be freed.
"Limited bilateral trade is not due to lack of willingness. It is because of difficulties in transferring money that has rendered economic activity difficult,” Nezam-Mafi said.
Biden as the new US president has spurred cautious optimism among businesses that the cruel Trumpian trade blockade will be lifted allowing for normal economic interaction between Iran and the international community. He has signaled a willingness to bring the US back into Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
SHTA was created after the US Treasury Department granted waivers for using a portion of the Central Bank of Iran’s overseas resources to import basic goods and pharmaceuticals.
The BCP bank of Switzerland is reportedly authorized to handle SHTA transactions. Two Iranian banks are also involved, namely Saman Bank and the Middle East Bank.