Australia Trade Chief Heads to Europe to Discuss Vaccine Exports

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Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan will travel for face-to-face talks with ministerial counterparts in Germany, France and Brussels from Thursday, after the European Union restricted exports of Covid-19 vaccines.

The talks will address “the supply of EU-produced Covid-19 vaccines that Australia has contracted and how we can work with the EU to enhance the global supply of vaccines,” Tehan said in an emailed statement. He will also meet with European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis and U.K. Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss to progress free-trade agreement negotiations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who originally pledged that all Australians would receive a first vaccine dose by October, said Sunday that he won’t set a new target date due to health concerns about AstraZeneca Plc’s shot and European export restrictions.

In a sign Morrison is concerned about the pace of the roll-out, he’s asked the National Cabinet -- formed last year with state and territory leaders to co-ordinate the pandemic response -- to start meeting twice a week from April 19 “for the foreseeable future until we solve the problems and get the program back on track.”

“There are serious challenges we need to overcome caused by patchy international vaccine supplies, changing medical advice and a global environment of need caused by millions of Covid-19 cases and deaths,” he said in a statement.

While Morrison has defended his government’s vaccine roll-out strategy, he’s been criticized by the main opposition Labor party for falling about 3 million doses short so far on a previously promised timeline, and for not securing more deals with pharmaceutical producers.

Last month, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country had raised the issue of the export restrictions with the European Commission through “multiple channels” and had asked for the decision to be reviewed.

Hunt now says Europe is unlikely to provide 3.1 million outstanding doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the bloc’s tightened export rules. About 1.2 million people in the nation of more than 25 million have received a first dose.

Tehan, appointed Australia’s trade chief in December, has said he wants to complete trade deals with both the U.K and EU by the end of the year. As a bloc, the EU is Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner and third-biggest source of foreign investment, while the nation’s annual trade with the U.K. is worth about $23.5 billion.

While in Europe, Tehan will also:

  • Meet with World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to discuss WTO reform and updating global trading rules
  • Hold talks with World Intellectual Property Organization Director-General Daren Tang to discuss ways to support Australian businesses to protect their intellectual property rights internationally
  • Co-chair the second Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue with Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Franck Riester

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