Trading with Iran via the Special Purpose Vehicle: How It Can Work

February 7, 2019


Ellie Geranmayeh and Esfandyar Batmanghelidj


European Council on Foreign Relations

On 31 January, Germany, France and Britain announced the establishment of a special purpose vehicle aimed at facilitating legitimate trade with Iran. 

Following weeks of speculation, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (the E3) have formally registered a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to help facilitate trade with Iran – trade that the return of US sanctions has significantly hampered. This comes after months of technical coordination between member states led by the European External Action Service. While reactions in Tehran have been mixed, this is a significant demonstration of Europe’s commitment to preserving the Iran nuclear deal after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it.

The E3’s foreign ministers issued a joint statement with a brief overview of this new mechanism, called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), but have provided little clarity on the details of how it works. This is understandable given that they must finalise several technical aspects of INSTEX before it becomes operational. INSTEX will initially focus “on the sectors most essential to the Iranian population – such as pharmaceutical, medical devices and agri-food goods”. This means that, for now, INSTEX will avoid a direct clash with the White House, since US sanctions permit these categories of trade due to their humanitarian nature.

But the exact method INSTEX uses will be the first instance in which Europe tries to mitigate the effects of US secondary sanctions on what it sees as legitimate trade. Companies in Europe and Iran are eager to know if the system can be of practical use. The assessment below lays out INSTEX’s likely structure.


Read the full article at the European Council on Foreign Relations.