Brussels (Brussels Morning) World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala criticised the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine export restrictions on Tuesday, Reuters reports.
Okonjo-Iweala said she was disappointed with the bloc’s export authorisation scheme for vaccines and added that she was in discussions with EU officials about the move.
On 11 March, the European Commission noted that the measure, first introduced in January when vaccine makers announced that deliveries to the EU would be delayed, was being extended until the end of June.
Okonjo-Iweala openly disappointed
“While we understand the politics of what they are doing — I have said openly I am disappointed, particularly in the fact that they extended it from March”, Okonjo-Iweala said, as she underscored the importance of making restrictions only temporary.
The restriction requires companies to seek approval before exporting vaccines from the bloc. Clearance to do so can be denied if the company in question fails to fulfil its delivery obligations towards the EU.
Since taking the helm of the WTO at the start of the month, Okonjo-Iweala has prioritised fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Commenting on India and South Africa’s proposal to suspend intellectual property rights for COVID-19 drugs, Okonjo-Iweala, acknowledging that WTO talks on the proposal are stalled, indicated that she is not opposed to the idea.
Other ways to increase output
She said it was important to increase production of the drugs by other means since negotiations were “taking some time”. She also proposes removing obstacles to export and increasing output by using existing production capacities.
Commenting on the export restriction measure on Tuesday, the European Commission stressed that it is not aiming for a COVID-19 vaccine ban, but wants to ensure the bloc gets its share of the product. Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the EC for Interinstitutional Relations, stressed “we are not seeking an outright ban on vaccine exports but we expect manufacturers to live up to their contractual obligations.”