Brussels moves to control vaccine exports
Regulation to be revised to ensure bloc does not export more than it imports
European Union leaders will on Thursday decide how to strengthen controls of novel coronavirus vaccine distribution after revealing proposed law changes to extend powers to restrict the export of its supplies to countries with high vaccination rates.
The European Commission on Wednesday announced measures to potentially block COVID-19 vaccine exports to countries such as the United Kingdom.
Changes to regulations would aim to ensure that vaccine-making countries sell to Europe and that the EU does not export more than it imports, an EU official told Reuters news agency.
The EU's 27 member state governments must on Thursday decide whether to block vaccine exports, but a full mass ban is unlikely, the anonymous official said.
"I just really, really don't see that happening because we have our international obligations and we want to keep supply chains going and the global system moving and fl owing," the official said.
The draft laws also target states that block EU access to "the raw materials" from which vaccines are made, the Financial Times reported.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said earlier that the EU had sent 10 million vaccines to the UK over the past six weeks, mostly from Belgium's Pfizer plant, but that the UK had exported no jabs to the bloc.
The EU introduced a vaccine export authorization program in January amid an ongoing spat with the British-Swedish vaccine producer AstraZeneca.
The EU has since threatened to block millions of doses claimed by the UK from AstraZeneca's Halix plant in Leiden, in the Netherlands, the Daily Telegraph reported. However, a report in The Times on Wednesday indicated the two sides seek to avoid any so-called vaccine-war and will come to an agreement.
The proposed EU law changes this week aim to "widen the criteria that will guide Brussels' decisions on export requests" and to ease the vaccine supply squeeze the bloc has suffered, The Guardian reported.
An EU official told the FT that the measures would help the bloc deal with any "future disputes "with vaccine-makers or nations.
"It's not specific to a company and it's not specific to a country," said the official. "We are the pharmacy of the world at this point in time. If that's to continue, it's really important for Europeans to get their fair share of vaccines."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday suggested that she would not support an export ban.
"When it comes to vaccine production, there are a huge range of international interdependencies," she told reporters.
"You have to be very careful now about imposing general export bans - you have to take a very close look at the supply chains.
"We will make our decision in a responsible manner, and at the same time we will keep talking to the British government, as Boris Johnson has already spoken with us and Emmanuel Macron on Sunday - and he is, by the way, in constant contact with the European commission. And we will certainly make our decision on Thursday, or at least hold a discussion about it."
A spokesperson for the Britain's prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the UK "expected the EU to stand by its commitment not to restrict exports by companies that are fulfilling their obligations".