Brussels faces an international reaction to its new controls on vaccine exports as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen struggles to quell a firestorm over the EU’s handling of vaccine shortages.
Canada and Japan have raised concerns to the committee new export rules require manufacturers to obtain authorization before shipping Covid-19 jabs outside the EU. South Korea has also warned governments against seizing more vaccines than they need.
The intervention comes on top of a British decision to obtain assurances from Mrs von der Leyen on Friday that shipments of BioNTech / Pfizer vaccines from Belgium across the Channel will not be interrupted due to the new powers. The measures give EU member states and the Commission the ability to block vaccine shipments from companies from which the EU has ordered supplies.
Export controls are a response to AstraZeneca’s failure to stick to your vaccine delivery schedule to the EU – a commitment the company insists on is not binding. They follow a week in which panic grew in EU capitals and at the highest levels of the committee over weak vaccine deployment on the continent.
According to a spokesperson, Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng spoke with Valdis Dombrovskis, European Trade Commissioner, to stress the importance of essential medical and health supply chains remaining “open and resilient” .
Ms Ng said she had requested and received assurances that the Export Transparency Mechanism would not affect shipments to Canada. Ottawa relies on doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine manufactured in the EU.
Dombrovskis told the minister that the instrument was aimed at ensuring “transparency and proportionality” and ensuring that countries get the vaccines, an EU official said.
Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s foreign minister, was scheduled to meet with Dombrovskis on Monday for a previously scheduled meeting on the two economies’ trade deal.
Taro Kono, the Japanese minister responsible for its pandemic response, told the World Economic Forum on Friday that he feared the EU would seek to block vaccine exports until it had satisfied demand within of the block. He also warned that some governments risked becoming more “nationalistic” about vaccines.
Other countries, including the United States, have also put in place rules or policy options that could curb vaccine exports.
Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s Foreign Minister, asked why some governments are seeking to secure stocks of vaccines that far exceed their populations’ needs, warning that this could fuel “global disunity.”
The commission was forced to a embarrassing u-turn Friday night on a provision in the original measures to trigger an emergency clause in the Brexit Withdrawal Treaty that would have created a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The dispute has sparked friction with the EU: Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Sunday that he only learned of the committee’s decision after a public announcement was made on Friday. Although he does not consider the decision to be an “act of hostility”, he said the commission should have informed him of the decision beforehand.
“My observation is that the terrible argument, an acrimonious argument between AstraZeneca and the commission. . . took center stage here and people were blinded by the decision that was made and its implications for the protocol, ”he told the BBC. The Andrew Marr Show.
The export measures exclude European countries outside the EU as well as countries in the Middle East and North Africa and 92 low and middle income states. Non-exempt countries include wealthy countries such as the UK, Japan, the US, South Korea, Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the Gulf States, as well as many middle-income countries, including Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey.
The commission has secured advance orders for up to 2.3 billion doses of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate the 446 million people in the EU more than twice. Ms von der Leyen has suggested that the bloc will share vaccinations it does not need for its own residents.
An EU official insisted that a large number of vaccine exports would eventually be exempted from the mechanism. The commission was aware of other countries’ agreements with drug manufacturers and “will work to ensure that the expectations of these countries to get their shipments are met,” the official said.
Additional reporting by Robin Harding in Tokyo and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London