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EghtesadOnline: A Swiss channel to export food and medicine to Iran without running foul of US sanctions is off to a good start, with dozens of companies keen to take part, a senior Swiss government official said on Saturday.

The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) aims to ensure Swiss-based exporters and trading firms in the medical, pharmaceutical and food sectors have a secure channel with a Swiss bank to guarantee payment for exports to Iran, according to Financial Tribune.

The arrangement has been in the works since Donald Trump reimposed sanctions in 2018 after walking away from a deal over Iran’s nuclear program, well before the coronavirus outbreak which has hit Iran badly, Reuters reported. 

The channel went live last month after a pilot deal in January involving Swiss bank BCP and drug maker Novartis (NOVN.S) for shipments of cancer and organ transplant drugs worth 2.3 million Euros ($2.6 million).

“There are 50 companies that are interested at the moment, and we think there will be more,” said Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, director of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) agency that oversees the program.

She did not name any of the companies.

“Iran has been especially hit by the coronavirus, and while there is no substance that helps against the virus, in general the health situation is difficult,” she said in an interview with broadcaster SRF on Saturday.

“If we can provide some support there and ensure exports take place then we are making a good contribution.”

 

US Targets Everything 

Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from US sanctions, but the measures targeting anything from oil sales to shipping to finance have deterred many foreign banks from doing business with Iran - including humanitarian deals.

In the Swiss project, exporters and banks give the government information about their business activities and partners in Iran. Bern verifies it and shares it with the US Treasury, which then signs off on which deals can go ahead without those involved being sanctioned. 

Earlier in February, the US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, also confirmed there was a lot of interest from food and drug companies in using the SHTA. 

The channel came into operation after the US Treasury Department granted waivers in late February 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 broad exceptions and authorizations for the conduct of humanitarian trade with Iran, SHTA presents a voluntary option for facilitating payment for exports of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices to Iran in a manner that ensures the upmost transparency,” the treasury department said in a statement. 

 

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