COVID-19: EU Commission restricts export of medical protective equipment

Protective equipment can now only be exported with permits.

COVID-19 keeps the whole world on tenterhooks. This has sparked a veritable stampede for medical supplies. Only gradually are measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to guarantee care being provided taking effect. Now the EU Commission is also taking action by severely restricting trade in medical protective equipment.

Bottleneck in medical protective equipment

The demand for medical protective equipment in the European Union is unbroken against the background of the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Stocks in drugstores and pharmacies are sold out.

The extent of the trade in medical protective equipment is shown by a seizure by the Viennese customs authorities on March 5, 2020. 21,000 disposable face masks were seized in a Turkish coach, which incidentally did not have CE certification, which serves as confirmation of compliance with the product-specific European directives. Accordingly, the masks seized were not tested medical products. Nevertheless, according to estimates, the masks could have brought the smugglers a profit of at least 55,000 euros.

Protective equipment subject to export permit

On this occasion, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has concluded that drastic measures need to be taken to minimise the impact on public health and the European economy and to address the increased need for protective equipment.

Consequently, on 14 March 2020 the EU Commission adopted Regulation (EU) 402/2020, which makes the export of certain goods from the European Union subject to the presentation of an export license.

The goods covered by the regulation are listed in Annex I and include protective glasses/sights, face shields, mouth and nose protection products, protective clothing and gloves. An authorization is required for the export of these products (whether or not they originate in the Union). Such an authorization can be obtained from the competent authorities of the Member States in which the exporter is established. A form for this purpose is given in Annex II to the Regulation adopted.

In the meantime, the respective authorities are obliged to process the applications within the time limit set by national law. However, this time limit may not exceed five working days. Any positive decision may then be sent in electronic or written form.

It also sets out a number of circumstances and conditions under which an export license should be granted. These include support for the activities of Union institutions, international organizations or third countries. It is also intended to ensure that foreign institutions of EU Member States are supplied.

The regulation will apply for a total of six weeks from the date of publication. After this period it will cease to apply.

Restrictions in Germany already since the beginning of March

Already at the beginning of March, the Federal Ministry of Economics issued an order prohibiting the export to third countries and the transfer to other EU member states of certain protective equipment. This ordinance came into force with its publication in the Federal Gazette on 4 March 2020, but was repealed and revised on 12 March 2020. In addition to (FFP2) and (FFP3) masks, it also applies to protective glasses/sights, face shields, mouth-nose protection products, protective gowns, protective suits and gloves. The export ban also covers contracts for the supply of the above-mentioned goods which were concluded before the order came into force.

However, the export and transfer by medical personnel and personnel of the disaster control and civil protection services for the permissible exercise of their profession and the provision of assistance in appropriate quantities, the export and transfer by other persons in appropriate quantities for their own needs and the export and transfer in similar emergency situations is not prohibited. The transit of the aforementioned goods and the re-export of non-Union goods within the meaning of Article 270 of Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 shall not be restricted either.

Exports for concentrated relief operations should continue to be possible upon request. Provided that the vital needs of the domestic market are covered, exports and shipments may also be exceptionally authorised in advance by the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) under certain circumstances. Such applications must be submitted via the electronic application portal ELAN-K2-Ausfuhr.

It remains to be seen in the coming weeks to what extent these restrictions and bans can calm the situation and ensure supplies.


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