Japan issues firm warning to Brussels over vaccine protectionism

Japan’s vaccine minister has told Brussels in no uncertain terms it risks jeopardising diplomatic relations should its vaccine export ban lead to suspended shipments to the island nation.

Taro Kono made his comments in an interview with The Associated Press as he urged the European Union to ensure stable exports of EU-manufactured vaccines.

The Pfizer jab has already been approved by Japan’s medical agency (PMDA) with applications pending for approval on the Oxford AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines.

The majority of Japan’s vaccines are to be supplied from Europe and with orders confirmed for 344 million doses of various jabs expected to be shipped to the Far East nation this year, the Japanese government is wary of Brussels’ sway towards vaccine protectionism.

“I’m extremely concerned that our friendly relations between Japan and the EU would be (adversely) affected if a shipment (to Japan) is suspended,” Kono warned in a thinly-veiled threat to the bloc.

“We’ve been telling them not to affect our friendly relations and I hope the EU will grant a bulk approval for shipments to Japan,” he added, wearing an EU mask with the message “#Stronger Together” and a stamp of tiny Japanese and EU flag on each side.

It isn’t the first time Japan’s vaccine minister has intervened on the issue, accusing the bloc back in February of adversely “affecting Japan’s supply schedule” after enacting its export transparency mechanism.

Japan’s vaccination roll-out has considerably lagged behind other developed nations with just 0.65 per cent of the population having a jab to date. Its failure to develop a homegrown vaccine has led to a reliance despite a pledge from prime minister Yoshihide Suga to further support Japanese developers.

“If we had domestically-developed vaccines, we could exchange opinions and set our long-term vaccine strategy, but we can’t do that unfortunately,” Kono added.

The Japanese are not alone in their criticism of Brussels. The UK has warned the bloc it would have “no choice” to retaliate if the European Commission sanctioned restrictions on the exports of EU-made vaccines intended for Britain.

Former Reform UK leader Nigel Farage went as far as to say Britain should cease paying the agreed Brexit bill if Brussels banned vaccines from coming to the UK.

“I cannot see why we should pay £10bn this year to an organisation that is acting in bad faith,” said Farage. “That is threatening to block legally-acquired vaccines and I honestly think that the government should stop playing softly-softly with the European Union.”