Brussels has been warned by a group of leading companies that its intention to give EU member states the power to block vaccine exports threatens to trigger retaliation and have a “devastating” impact on the global jab supply.
The International Chamber of Commerce said in a letter to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, that the decision to limit exports – which is expected as early as Friday – could “very quickly erode essential supply chains”.
The warning came as the battle over insufficient supplies of Covid-19 in wealthy countries escalates, with Ms von der Leyen stepping up pressure on AstraZeneca, the company at the center of the controversy this week over vaccine availability.
Speaking to German radio, Ms von der Leyen said the company had not provided any “plausible explanation” as to why it would not provide the agreed number of doses. The European Medicines Agency is expected to announce later on Friday whether it has approved the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the EU.
The ICC letter was prompted by the commission’s plans to force companies to report all plans to export vaccines to national authorities, who would then have the power to stop shipments.
John Denton, Secretary General of the ICC, wrote: “Our immediate fear is that the EU’s export control scheme risks triggering retaliatory measures by third countries which could very quickly erode critical supply chains .
The letter, dated Thursday and seen by the Financial Times, continued: “Such a chain of events – which seems quite predictable given the rapidly escalating trade barriers on personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic – would have had devastating consequences for the supply of vaccines around the world, including in EU Member States. “
Mr Denton, whose organization represents more than 45 million businesses globally, said the EU’s move – though “ultimately well-intentioned” – could also hurt poor countries that depend on manufacturing facilities in Europe for their supply. “I encourage you to consider the potential effect of a protracted pandemic in the developing world on the European economy,” he wrote.
The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ICC letter.
The main association of the European pharmaceutical industry has also joined in the reaction of companies against the Brussels proposals. The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Associations and Industries said the Brussels plans could “harm the supply of vaccines in Europe and around the world”.
“It is vital that the measures proposed by the Commission and the Member States do not restrict, restrain or have other negative effects on the exports of vaccines or the import of supplies essential for the manufacture of vaccines” , did he declare. “Risking retaliation from other regions at this crucial time in the fight against Covid-19 is in no one’s best interest.”
In a growing EU effort to tighten its grip on vaccine supply, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, has proposed the use of new legal powers and ‘enforcement measures’ to speed up jab production and resolve “serious difficulties” in the supply of certain products.
An EU official suggested that the proposals, published this week in a letter from Mr Michel to leaders of four member states, could allow the bloc to demand that companies share patents, licenses and knowledge. -make necessary to expand vaccine production.