0539 GMT August 10, 2022
Announced in late January and declared operational a month later, the channel, known as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), was supposed to ensure that humanitarian goods continue to reach the Iranian people as the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Feb. 27.
But it’s not happening – at a time when, according to Johns Hopkins University, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 103,000 Iranians and killed at least 6,486.
“No transactions have yet been carried out. Unfortunately, this whole process has been slower than expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Fabian Maienfisch, a spokesman for Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which oversees the channel.
Knowledgeable observers say the way the channel is structured places substantial burdens in the way of companies looking to sell Iran humanitarian supplies.
Set up through the Swiss bank BCP, compliance requirements for making use of the channel are elevated by design, to provide the US with an assurance that the money won’t be diverted into any Iranian military or other effort. The Treasury Department boasted in February of the “enhanced due diligence” participating financial institutions will need to perform.
“The reporting requirements are overkill. If it takes three months for a company to get the paperwork in order to even use the channel, it’s disingenuous for the administration to suggest it has done everything it can to ease humanitarian trade during a pandemic emergency,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of Bourse & Bazaar, which tracks the Iranian economy.
Batmanghelidj was first to spot that the SHTA has not processed any transactions since a January pilot effort.
In an indication of the bureaucracy involved in the SHTA, Maienfisch told The Daily Beast, “Swiss export and trade companies that are interested in participating are currently collecting the necessary information and documents to be submitted to SECO.”
Queried by The Daily Beast, the Treasury Department declined comment beyond pointing to its Feb. 27 announcement that the SHTA channel is operational.
At least one concern critics of “maximum pressure” had about the humanitarian-trade channel appears not to have manifested. It had been unclear from the SHTA’s establishment if Iran could transfer its foreign currency reserves held in other banks into BCP for the purchase of medical goods and food.
Maienfisch clarified that Iran can put money it’s got outside BCP into the Swiss bank.
The US maximum pressure does not formally bar food, medicine or related goods from entering Iran. But Batmanghelidj said Iran continued to face weaknesses in its medical supply chain, something the SHTA was meant to alleviate.
“Launching the Swiss channel was an admission by the Trump administration that the “maximum pressure” sanctions do in fact restrict humanitarian trade, thereby harming ordinary Iranians,” he said. “Failing to ensure the channel could actually operate while Iran confronted a global pandemic makes clear that some people in the administration just don’t care about the harm they are causing.”