The EU thanks Australia and other WTO Members for expressing their views on the EU’s transparency and authorisation mechanism for exports of COVID-19 vaccines.
As Members are undoubtedly aware, the third wave of the pandemic is currently unfolding with force in many EU Member States, with all its dire consequences for our citizens and the economy. Three months after the first vaccine was authorised in the EU by the European Medicines Agency, we are all struggling to deliver the long-awaited vaccines to our citizens. There are simply not enough vaccines on the market yet and not all producers meet the agreed delivery schedules.
As a result, not enough EU residents could be vaccinated to date, including in the most vulnerable parts of the population. Lives were lost which could have been saved through faster vaccination.
As explained at the General Council on 2 March, the EU introduced a mechanism to ensure the transparent distribution of vaccines and to avoid a situation where the much-awaited vaccine goes to the highest bidder or distribution is left to the arbitrary decision of vaccine producers.
As persistent delays in vaccine deliveries continue, the EU needed to extend the measure until the end of June. We are hopeful that by that time the bottlenecks in the production and distribution of vaccines will be reduced.
Yet, we must not lose sight of the fact that the EU continues to be the largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines globally. Since the scheme entered into force, Member States approved 493 requests for export authorisations and rejected only one. As announced by President Ursula von der Leyen last week, the total number of exported doses amounted to 77 million. To repeat and be precise: All export requests have so far been authorised except for one.
Amid continuing and unevenly distributed shortfalls in production globally, the EU is the only major OECD producer that continues to significantly export vaccines.
On 25th March, the scheme was revised to include two additional criteria which Member States should consider when granting an export authorisation, in order to preserve the security of supply chains.
This means that 1) we will carefully assess whether the destination country restricts exports of its own vaccine production or their raw materials, either by law or other means, and 2) whether conditions prevailing in the destination country, in particular the epidemiological situation, its vaccination rate and the vaccine stocks justify a request for exports.
I would like to underline that this is not an export ban. It is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share of vaccines. European citizens do not understand why vaccines manufactured in the EU are going to other countries, but close to nothing is coming our way, including from other countries having significant production of COVID vaccines.
Vulnerable, low and middle-income countries will continue to be exempted from the scope of the mechanism, as are any exports to the COVAX facility. The EU calls upon all vaccine producers to exercise similar solidarity and to avoid restrictions on inputs necessary for vaccine production.
Let me also underline that the EU does not only request transparency, but is committed to ensuring it. We have promptly and diligently reported all versions of the mechanism to the WTO’s monitoring of trade measures related to Covid-19 and notified them under relevant requirements, such as the CTG Decision on notification procedures for quantitative restrictions. We are more than willing to explain our approach in detail, and normally we would expect the same from other Members which restrict their exports but so far have not notified anything.
We are working towards the overall common objective of ensuring broad and equitable access to COVID treatments and vaccines. As stated at the General Council Meeting in March, the underlying problem is insufficient global production that cannot meet the unprecedented demand. We must make every effort to help manufacturers find reliable partners globally with whom they could share their know-how and technology.
The EU has started to explore avenues for scaling up local domestic manufacturing. We are also accelerating programs to support the development of pharmaceutical production capacity in Africa, where it is particularly scarce.
We strongly support DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her efforts to improve global cooperation in this matter.