Iran’s civilian population is already reeling from sanctions that, according to the United Nations, are cutting access to medicine and humanitarian goods. But today, Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping container company, announced it will end port service in Iran.
In Maersk’s statement, they declared that their cargoes had been limited to goods for the welfare of the general population:
“To date, Maersk Line’s business in Iran has involved transporting foodstuffs and other goods, for example vehicles, for the benefit of the general civilian population. It is with regret that it is ceasing these activities.”
Maersk’s spokeswoman cited concerns about the possibility of penalties from the U.S. government, despite the fact that food is supposedly exempt from current U.S. sanctions:
“This is a pragmatic decision based on an assessment of balancing the benefits of doing limited business in Iran against the risk of damaging business opportunities elsewhere particularly the U.S.”
Maersk’s shutdown can only make basic foodstuffs more scarce for Iran’s civilian population, a trend we are likely to see continue as sanctions escalate. As the UN reported in August:
“Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions.”
Because of the litany of broad economic sanctions in place, there are increasingly limited channels for legal humanitarian transactions regarding Iran, and fewer and fewer banks and companies willing to take the risk of violating the myriad sanctions. Last week, a dozen U.S. lawmakers called on the President to take steps to ensure banking sanctions differentiate between blocked transactions and legally allowed transactions, such as food and medicine.
Iran is turning to unorthodox methods of securing food for its population. Traditionally a wheat exporter that allowed the private sector to manage food imports, Iran’s government has recently made large wheat purchases from Australia, Russia and the EU, as well pushing for a barter deal with Pakistan (Iran would send Pakistan pig iron and fertilizer in exchange for wheat).