EU imposes export controls on face masks and other equipment and warns shortages will persist
As the European Union went into lockdown to battle the Coronavirus (Corvid-19), the European Commission announced restrictions on exports of personal protective gear outside the bloc, while warning that existing stocks and ramped-up production ‘will not be sufficient to meet the demand within the Union.’
‘In order to remedy and prevent a critical situation, it is in the Union interest that the Commission takes an immediate action of a limited duration in order to ensure that exports of personal protective equipment are subject to an authorisation in order to ensure adequacy of supply in the Union in order to meet the vital demand,’ the Commission said in its official journal on 15 March, explaining that controls will remain for six weeks.
‘Exports of certain quantities of specific products may be authorised under specific circumstances such as to ensure assistance provided to third countries, and depending on the needs of the Member States,’ the Commission said. It explained that the Member States themselves would be in charge of authorising any exports.
The Commission warned that demand for protective gear has increased and is ‘expected to continue increasing significantly in the imminent future, with accompanying shortages developing in several Member States. Constraints exist throughout the EU single market to meet customers’ demand for the relevant Personal Protective Equipment, in particular mouth protection masks.’
Inside the EU, personal protective equipment such as face masks are mainly manufactured in the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Poland.
‘Despite the fact that increased production has been encouraged, the current level of Union production and existing stocks will not be sufficient to meet the demand within the Union,’ the Commission cautioned.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU is working on three goals: boosting production of needed supplies, keeping them within the EU, and sharing them inside the bloc.
But Germany, France and the Czech Republic have imposed their own export controls on medical equipment such as respiratory masks, gloves and protective suits, effectively refusing to share their stocks with other Member States.
MedTech Europe, the trade association for the EU medical technology industry, warns that refusing to share stocks within the EU will be ‘counterproductive’.
‘Several Member States, like Germany and France, have reacted to the outbreak unilaterally by requisitioning protective equipment or putting in place export bans,’ MedTech explained. ‘Such measures are counterproductive as they can create acute shortages in other parts of Europe. This prevents a more European approach to contain the spread of the virus and undermines equal access to needed equipment across the Member States.’
More than 185,000 people have been confirmed infected by the Coronavirus worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, which says that Europe is now the ‘epicentre of the epidemic’. Latest figures say some 3,400 people have died in Europe alone.