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Europe renews push to slash global tariffs on medical goods

[BRUSSELS] The European Union (EU) is pressing for a global deal to eliminate tariffs on pharmaceuticals and medical supplies in an effort to guard against the kind of supply-chain shock triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, outlined options for encouraging worldwide commerce in healthcare goods in a policy paper due to be discussed by the 27-nation bloc's trade ministers in a June 9 video conference.

The goal would be to end customs duties on drugs including antibiotics, penicillins and vaccines and on equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns. The initiative would also aim to give countries less room during health crises to curb international trade in such goods through, for example, export restrictions.

"Facilitating international trade in healthcare products contributes to making supply chains more resilient and diversified," the commission said in the internal paper obtained by Bloomberg News. "International trading opportunities also incentivise greater production in the sector, as companies can serve the global as opposed to only the domestic market."

The commission proposes that the EU seeks an international agreement open to all World Trade Organization Members for participation, for the duties cut. "Tariff elimination would be conditioned on reciprocity among countries representing a significant share of world trade in the sector," according to the memo.

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As countries around the world emerge from lockdowns triggered by the pandemic, the EU wants to use trade as a tool to help revive devastated economies and prevent commercial barriers from re-emerging during future health scares.

Global market-opening measures for healthcare goods would also help the least-developed nations cope with future crises, according to the commission.

The EU, the world's most lucrative single market, has itself faced criticism for temporarily requiring an authorisation this year for the sale outside the bloc of personal protective equipment needed to fight the coronavirus. The EU let the export controls, introduced in mid-March, lapse last week.


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