EU limits on medical exports leave many poor countries vulnerable to COVID-19

Chad P. Bown (PIIE)

March 25, 2020

EU limits on medical exports leave many poor countries vulnerable to COVID-19

The European Union’s (EU’s) export restrictions on certain medical products could leave healthcare systems in developing countries without protective equipment in the midst of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The EU announced restrictions for a six-week period starting March 15, 2020, on exports of five medical products to countries outside the trade bloc.

These restrictions could compromise healthcare systems in developing nations in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa that rely on the bloc for medical supplies. Cape Verde, for example, imports 91 percent of its face shields and medical gloves from the EU. If it is cut off from EU medical supplies, product shortages could limit the quality of care available to coronavirus patients and leave medical professionals at risk.

Healthcare systems require access to every protective item to provide quality care to patients. Even if just one protective item cannot be sourced, the effectiveness of medical care could be jeopardized. Therefore, healthcare systems even in nations like Serbia, which relies on the EU supply chains for two protective items, are still at considerable risk.

On March 20, the European Commission issued guidance on export requirements for personal protective equipment. The Commission clarified that emergency supplies exported in the context of humanitarian aid, which are exempt from restrictions, include any supplies used by humanitarian organizations operating in third countries.

However, the guidance does not mention exemptions for exports to poor countries arising through private-sector (market) transactions, only humanitarian assistance.

This PIIE Chart was adapted from Chad P. Bown’s blog post, “EU limits on medical gear exports put poor countries and Europeans at risk”.

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