The UK government has not granted permission to Shell to pay outstanding debt it owes to Iran in food and pharmaceuticals.
Shell owes Iran $2.3 billion on earlier oil deals and has an interest to repay this debt to maintain good relations with the OPEC producer.
As financial sanctions prevent payment in cash Shell sorted out possible barter deals with British pharmaceutical company GSK and global grain trader Cargill. Iran is already trading part of its oil in barter deals with Pakistan or against non-convertible Rupees in the the case of India.
Food has been exempted from Iranian sanction regimes, yet Iran switched from the US to Australia as a major supplier at the height of the hostage crisis in 1979 out of fear of US food boycotts as I outline in chapter 4 of Oil for Food.
As a result of droughts Iran has increasingly resorted to food imports in recent years, also from the US of all things. This happened despite efforts at self-sufficiency, particularly in wheat.
While Iran managed to increase wheat production in the 2000s, this happened at the expense of other food items like vegetables and meat that witnessed an import boom.
Self-sufficiency remains elusive and the country continues to e dependent on grain imports, which it regards as a strategic liability in light of the current sanction regime.