Trudeau, EU leader talk vaccines but no assurance Canada exempt from export controls

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reaffirmed their cooperation in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to both Canada and Europe during a call Wednesday.

The call between the two leaders comes as Canada’s reliance on Europe for vaccines is under renewed threat, with the European Union earlier Wednesday unveiling plans to limit exports of the shots being manufactured within the continent.

According to a readout of the call provided by the prime minister’s office, Trudeau and von der Leyen “agreed on the importance of rolling out safe and effective vaccines as quickly as possible, including with respect to continued close Canada-EU cooperation.”

On Twitter, von der Leyen said she had a “good discussion” with Trudeau about their combined efforts to combat the pandemic. A readout of the call was not immediately available from the European Commission.

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Neither the readout from Trudeau’s office nor von der Leyen’s tweet explicitly mentioned the new EU export controls, or if Canada will be exempt from them.

I had a good discussion with @JustinTrudeau on our cooperation in fighting the #COVID19 pandemic.

We also exchanged views on international matters – from relations with China and Russia, to international debt relief.

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) March 24, 2021

The EU unveiled legislation Wednesday that includes new rules that will make it harder for pharmaceutical companies producing COVID-19 vaccines in the 27-nation bloc to export them.

The rules will give the EU broad powers to curb those exports for the next six weeks. It’s seen as the latest move by the EU to ramp up its sluggish — and highly criticized — vaccination effort. The EU’s slow pace is quickly coming up against a third wave of the virus, which is already putting pressure on France and other parts of Europe.

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Trudeau said during question period Wednesday that the government was “concerned” about the EU legislation, and said cabinet members — including himself — would be in contact with their European counterparts.

 'EU sharpens COVID-19 vaccine export rules as 3rd wave of infections rises' 2:11 EU sharpens COVID-19 vaccine export rules as 3rd wave of infections rises

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Pfizer and Moderna operations in Europe are supplying Canada with the bulk of its vaccines. Shipments from both companies are beginning to grow significantly after sluggish starts earlier this year, when production delays in Europe hampered Canada’s rollout.

Nearly 1.2 million doses of Pfizer’s shot are expected this week, alongside two separate shipments by Moderna for a total of 846,000 doses. The first of the two shipments from Moderna arrived Wednesday in Toronto.

Roughly a million doses from Pfizer are expected to arrive in Canada every week between now and mid-May.

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None of those shipments are expected to be impacted by the new EU measures, according to a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng, who told Global News that counterparts in Europe have provided assurances.

“Our government has been in constant contact with our counterparts in the EU and its member states, at all levels of government,” spokesperson Youmy Han said in an email.

“We will continue to work with the EU and its member states, as we have done throughout the pandemic, to ensure that our essential health and medical supply chains remain open and resilient.”

The EU also pointed out that the legislation does not amount to an explicit “export ban,” but rather to ensure its member nations have enough vaccine supply.

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EU Commission sources tell Global News that vaccine exports from the EU to Canada will still be subject to an authorization request — a measure that was implemented back in January.

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At the time, those controls raised concerns that Canada’s advance purchase agreements may not be honoured, which could threaten its vaccine supply. Canada is not on a list of countries exempted from those authorization controls.

Under the strengthened rules, introduced today, those authorizations will only be granted “where they do not pose a threat to the security of supply of vaccines and their components in the Union, while also considering reciprocity and proportionality,” EU Commission sources said.

— With files from Global’s Rachael D’Amore

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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