BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union on Wednesday moved toward tighter export controls for coronavirus vaccines, seeking to ensure its 27 countries have more COVID-19 injections to boost the bloc’s vaccine campaign amid a increase in new infections.
The EU Executive Commission said on the eve of a summit of EU leaders that it has a plan to ensure that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available to its 450 million citizens, even if that comes at the cost of helping nations. off the block. especially Great Britain.
EU officials said trade with the United States should not be affected and assured nations seeking to have an open and transparent relationship with the bloc that they had little to fear.
The EU move is expected to be a blow to Britain, whose swift vaccination rollout has been viewed with envy by many EU nations, especially since it came when the UK formally completed its Brexit divorce from the bloc. The latest figures show that 45% of Britons have received at least one vaccine injection, compared to less than 14% for the bloc.
“I specifically mention the UK,” said EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. Since the end of January, “some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the UK and no doses have been exported from the UK to the EU.”
“Therefore, it is clear that we must also consider those aspects of reciprocity and proportionality,” he said.
In the post-Brexit era, both sides have been fighting over everything from diplomatic representation to border controls and bureaucracy, but they didn’t want to adopt the same confrontational tone on life-saving vaccines, especially when the World Organization of the Health is giving the alarms. on the increase in new infections in Europe.
Just hours after the Commission’s decision, both the EU and the UK said in a joint statement that “we are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes cooperation between the EU and the UK even more. important”.
“Ultimately, openness and global cooperation from all countries will be key to finally overcoming this pandemic and ensuring better preparation to face future challenges,” the statement said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said global cooperation on vaccines has been the EU standard. The bloc approved the shipment of 41 million doses of vaccines to 33 countries in the past seven weeks and believes it is at the forefront of international vaccine exchange efforts. The overall total of vaccines exported is even higher, as many more were not covered by the recent export regime.
However, some EU member states preparing for Thursday’s summit feared that too harsh an export stance could amount to a de facto export ban that undermines the EU’s reputation as an open trading bloc.
Under a less stringent export control system in place so far, only one vaccine shipment in 381 has been banned. That was heading to Australia, which has a very limited coronavirus outbreak compared to the third surge in infections. facing many EU nations now.
“We have achieved more than enough doses for the entire population. But we have to ensure sufficient and timely vaccine deliveries to EU citizens, “said von der Leyen. “Every day counts.”
Under the new regime, EU officials would also take reciprocity into account and find the right balance.
Canada also receives vaccines shipped from Europe and has received assurances “that these measures will not affect vaccine shipments to Canada,” a Canadian government spokesman said.
The EU has been fighting with AstraZeneca for months over exactly how many doses of vaccine would be delivered on certain dates. Several vaccine producers, including Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, were hit by technical production delays during the winter, just as global demand for coronavirus vaccines soared. AstraZeneca has been producing less than half the doses that the EU had.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tried to ease tensions over vaccines, speaking by phone in recent days with European leaders, including von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“The partnership we have with our European colleagues is very, very important and we continue to work with them,” Johnson told lawmakers Wednesday. “I don’t think vaccine blockages … or vaccine ingredients are reasonable.”
“I would just kindly point out to anyone considering a lockdown … that companies can consider such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible to make future investments in countries where lockdowns are imposed,” Johnson said.
Rob Gillies contributed from Toronto, Jill Lawless from London.
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