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Swiss humanitarian channel with Iran open for business

During the trial in January, Novartis supplied Iran with €2.3 million worth of cancer medicines and medicines needed for organ transplants. Keystone / Walter Bieri

The United States and Switzerland have finalised the terms of a humanitarian trade agreement, which would allow companies to send food, medicine and other critical supplies to Iran.

The US Department of the Treasury announced on Thursday that the Swiss Humanitarian Trade AgreementExternal link (SHTA) is fully operational and noted that it is the first channel established under a US framework established in October 2019 to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.

“The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement will help ensure that humanitarian goods continue to reach the Iranian people without diversion by the regime,” said Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. “We thank our Swiss counterparts for their dedicated efforts in establishing the SHTA and we look forward to our continued collaboration.”

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook indicated that there is already interest from food and healthcare companies in using the Swiss channel. Trial operations of the channel began in January, during which Novartis supplied Iran with €2.3 million worth of cancer medicines and medicines needed for organ transplants.

Under the agreement, the Swiss government, in cooperation with the US and Iranian authorities, has created a payment channel with a Swiss bank, through which payments for exports to Iran by Swiss domiciled companies are guaranteed. The agreement is open to companies domiciled in Switzerland, including those owned or controlled by US or third-party persons, in the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors.

Long-standing relationship

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga announced that negotiations on increased humanitarian aid in Iran were nearing completion.

With this agreement, Switzerland ensures that it does not violate US sanctions while advancing humanitarian goals. A similar instrument was established for Iran in 2016, before the relaxation of sanctions.

Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from the sanctions that Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.

In a Swiss public television SRF interview in January, Iranian ambassador in Bern, Mohammad Reza Haji Karim Jabbari said that despite the exemption, humanitarian trade had been affected by the sanctions because money transfers had been blocked. US measures have deterred several foreign banks from doing business with the Islamic Republic, including humanitarian deals.

Switzerland has exercised a protecting power mandate for the US in Iran since 1980. Washington broke off relations with Tehran in 1980 over the hostage crisis that kept 52 American diplomats and citizens trapped at its embassy in Iran for 444 days. 


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR