While the COVID-19 virus is spreading through the European Union like wildfire and most Europeans are confined to their homes, Germany and France finally agreed to withdraw their restrictive measures on transfers (intra-EU) and exports (extra-EU) of medical and protective equipment. This follows the adoption on 14 March 2020 by the European Commission of controls on the export of individual protective equipment. These export controls, the first to target non-military or dual use items, are part of the Commission’s attempt to restore unity between the Member States.
We review in this alert the measures adopted by the EU’s Member States, which are being replaced by new EU-wide instruments; and compare those EU measures to the export controls adopted by the U.S.
The EU’s response to COVID-19
On 4 March 2020 Germany’s so-called emergency task force on the coronavirus epidemic decided to ban the export of many types of medical protection gear, including breathing masks, medical gloves and protective suits (see German Federal Gazette as of 4 March 2020, available at bundesanzeiger.de). There were limited exemptions to the ban including, among others, travellers who export or transfer the relevant products in reasonable quantities for their own use. The decree allowed exporters to apply for a licence in very limited circumstances, including, for example, when products are exported in connection with concerted international aid. All other exports were banned, whether destined for the rest of the EU or third countries.
France requisitioned all stocks of surgical masks of the types FFP2 and anti-projections from national producers and distributors in the public and private sectors as of March 4 2020 and extended the requisition to surgical masks of the types FFP3, N95, N99, N100, P95, P99, P100, R95, R99 and R100 as of March 14 2020. Such measures prevent any export of masks from the French territory.
Understandably, these measures were seen with great suspicion, even anger, by the other Member States, particularly Italy, the first Member State to be hit by the virus and a country in need of such protective equipment.
In the face of this serious challenge to the EU’s single market, on 14 March 2020 the European Commission adopted a regulation making the exportation of certain products to countries outside the EU subject to the production of an export authorisation (Reg. (EU) 2020/402) in order to prevent and remedy the critical situation in the EU. Exports of personal protective equipment are now temporarily subject to an authorisation in order to ensure the Union’s capacity to meet the demand on its territory. Authorisations to export may be authorised under specific circumstances, for specific products, in limited quantity and if the needs of the Member States allow so. Such restrictions apply for six weeks as from March 15 2020.