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A senior European diplomat is urging caution over the use of proposed new rules that would govern exports of Covid-19 vaccines to outside of the EU. The rules were announced by the European Commission earlier Wednesday.

The tougher export controls put forward by the Commission would see vaccine shipments assessed based on the destination country’s rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports.

In a briefing to journalists, the diplomat said the EU and European countries need to, “be careful with the very the nuclear option of a pure export prohibition.” And if not used correctly in, “appropriate situations, it will backfire.”

“We speak as – I would say – a pharma superpower, we have a huge concentration of pharmacological companies on our territory,” whose presence, “counts for several percentages of our employment, of GNP,” the diplomat explained.

“We are very much aware of the interdependence of these logistical chains, and we think that, using a tool of an export blocking could turn itself very quickly against ourselves,” the diplomat said, adding he fears “it will expose us to clearly retaliation measures, breach of trust, and also future diminished possibilities for investments and trade.”

The existing export mechanism – which focuses on pharmaceutical firms – has been in place since the end of January and requires each company manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine to register its intention of exporting doses outside of the EU. European countries in collaboration with the Commission decide whether to approve or reject shipments.

In figures released today by the Commission, over 300 applications were made, with 43 million vaccines exported to 33 countries. Only one shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Italy to Australia was blocked.

The diplomat welcomed this “excellent by-product” of the current mechanism. “We understand of course the need for more transparency, we are squarely behind the Commission in that respect,” adding that, “we have now a very precise view on how the export flows are organised.”

Asked why the expanded legislation was being brought forward now, the diplomat said they felt it, “probably it is a sign of some nervousness which is reigning,” in some European counties. 

“The Commission is not deaf for what lives in member states, they hear cries for help or indignation, and it’s up to the Commission to reflect on that and to put proposals on the table,” he added.

European leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday to discuss this proposal and the wider coronavirus crisis in Europe. If signed off, the expanded export mechanism would “apply until six weeks from its entry into force,” according to the Commission’s draft text.

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