Four days after rolling out their big cannon in the vaccine war, EU countries have not yet fired it.
The EU imposed export controls on vaccines on Saturday but, amid increasing signs of détente, there is little immediate appetite to use them to halt shipments, partly through fears they could backfire and spark a self-defeating race toward global vaccine protectionism.
The EU raised the prospect of export controls early last week and the idea has proved highly contentious from the outset, triggering concern from the EU’s trade partners and the World Health Organization alike. EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis cast it more as a transparency measure to keep tabs on whether Big Pharma companies are meeting contractual commitments, rather than a push to actually block vaccine consignments at ports and airports.
For now, Dombrovskis’ insistence that the measure is not intended as a ban seems to be holding true. Brussels on Tuesday said it had authorized the first two requests to ship coronavirus vaccines outside the EU, while capitals told POLITICO they were not blocking exports at their borders.
“I can inform you that the destination of the first two export requests were the U.K. and Canada. They were both approved swiftly,” said Commission spokeswoman Miriam García Ferrer. “It proves that the system is working and that we will really use it in very limited cases.”
The news is the first sign of de-escalation and comes after statements from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, offering reassurances that Europe would not block deliveries of vaccines scheduled under U.K. government contracts. Von der Leyen’s spokesman Eric Mamer on Tuesday said the Commission would “ensure that countries that have valid contracts for vaccines that are produced in Europe can continue to benefit from these.”
Canada’s International Trade Minister Mary Ng has also said that she has received assurances from the EU that her country’s deliveries won’t be blocked under the new regime.
Under the EU law, customs authorities are instructed to halt vaccine exports unless they come with authorization from national governments, which the law says should decide “in accordance” with the Commission.
German customs officials said they had received instructions to stop exports without authorization, but added that no vaccine shipment had been blocked “definitively” as of Monday. “To date, no exports of goods covered by the Commission Implementing Regulation have been definitively stopped on this basis,” said Dietmar Zwengel from Germany’s General Directorate of Customs. Countries across the world, from Canada to the U.K., have been closely watching Germany because it is one of only two countries in Europe, along with Belgium, where the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is bottled and finished.
Government officials in Spain — where AstraZeneca’s vaccine and Moderna’s are finished and bottled — has also said the country had no intention of using the regulation to block exports as the government feared a counterproductive effect and devastating signal to international partners.
“This measure comes from the Commission and is planned as a way to get information and put pressure on vaccine manufacturers in negotiations. Using it to requisition vaccines would be madness. Spain will authorize all exports unless the Commission tells us not to,” said one official involved in the authorization decisions.
Italy, another EU country where AstraZeneca’s vaccine is finished and bottled, is still figuring out how to implement the new mechanism.
As of Monday, the export control mechanism was not yet operational and Italy had neither blocked nor authorized any shipment of coronavirus vaccines out of the country, according to an official briefed on the issue.
An Italian customs agent said on Tuesday that officials in charge of customs controls had not yet been informed of the new measure. When last year the EU had rolled out a similar scheme for face masks and protective equipment, Italian customs officials were instructed to implement it, the agent said, noting that this had not yet happened for the new vaccine control mechanism.
According to the European Commission, Italy’s foreign affairs ministry will be in charge of taking a preliminary decision on the authorization and then ask for Brussels’ green light.
No shipment of vaccines had been stopped at Belgian ports or airports as of Tuesday, said Francis Adyns, spokesman for Belgian treasury and customs.
France, the only other EU country where coronavirus vaccines are finished and bottled, declined to comment. The French customs authority, trade ministry and economy ministry did not reply to repeated questions on how they would enforce the new export controls.
But Commission spokesperson García Ferrer said EU countries in any case could not block exports without consulting with Brussels first. “The Commission has the last word,” she said.
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Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-holds-fire-coronavirus-vaccine-export-blocks/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication