EU faces global criticism over vaccine export ban

The European Union faces global criticism over its disastrous move to curb vaccine exports.

Brussels drew widespread criticism on Friday after it triggered article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, imposing a hard border on the island of Ireland. The measures were introduced after failing to resolve a supply dispute with AstraZeneca, after the pharma giant said it would have to cut supplies of its Covid jab by 60%.

Canadian trade minister, Mary Ng told her EU counterpart, Valdis Dombrovskis that it was crucial supply chains remained “open and resilient”. Ms Ng also wants reassurances the EU export measures will not affect supplies to Canada.

Lining up to attack the EU were free trading nations, Japan, and South Korea, with Seoul zoning in Brussels’ obsession with buying vast quantities of vaccine and breaking free trade norms in the process.  

Foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha warned the EU actions could lead to “global disunity.”

The European Union has signed free trade deals with all three countries.

The EU has tried to spin Friday’s export restrictions as harmless administrative requirements so that it can better track every link in the supply chain. But given how many suppliers feed into vaccine manufacture and the tendency for production and international shipping facilities to be located at different locations, the sector is likely to be overwhelmed with paperwork.

The EU can also veto vaccine exports. Friday’s regulation, hastily put together by the European Commission states: “Without the production of a valid export authorisation, the exportation of such goods is prohibited.”

A German customs official told Politico: “The EU regulation is in force since Saturday and is directly applicable law. German customs is stopping all vaccine shipments outside of the EU if there is any doubt that they are not authorized.”

Brussels has been accused of targeting the UK. On Friday it was also announced 92 countries would be exempted from the measures, Britain was not amongst them. Major international players such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brazil and Turkey are still unhappy.  

Ursula von der Leyen is trying to calm the popular anger by promising to share doses not needed for its own inhabitants, although to little effect. While EU’s vaccine orders are massive it is a long way away from inoculating the whole population.

On Sunday, an EU official said: “We fully understand that some of our allies may have concerns and will work closely with them to ensure a speedy supply of vaccines,”

The official added: “We will work hard to avoid any knock-on effects on our partners, and we remain committed to open markets to avoid any disruption of supply chains.”

Japan and South Korea also raised concerns. South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, questioned why some governments were seeking to secure stocks of vaccine that hugely exceeded their populations’ needs. The South Korean warned the EU actions could lead to “global disunity.”

Countries that the EU’s export measurements could effect include Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brazil and Turkey as well as several others.

Ursula von der Leyen has suggested the EU will share doses not needed for its own inhabitants.