Foreign Policy

Fed Up With Delays, EU Proposes Vaccine Export Controls

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The European Commission proposes vaccine export controls amid delivery delays, Saudi Arabia’s investment conference begins today, and Biden’s United Nations pick faces the Senate.

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EU Threatens Vaccine Export Controls

The European Commission has proposed that an “export transparency mechanism” be established as soon as possible as anger rises over delays in coronavirus vaccine deliveries.

If accepted by EU member states, the move would mean any company manufacturing vaccines within the bloc—which includes Pfizer and Moderna—would have to receive prior approval before exporting to outside countries.

Meanwhile, the British government and its media backers are portraying its speedy vaccine rollout as a benefit of Brexit. Despite EU demands for export controls, British vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted that there would be no threat to U.K. supplies or its ambitious vaccine timeline. The U.K. has vaccinated approximately 10 percent of its population, largely because the British government pre-ordered a larger number of doses and approved the vaccine for use before the EU did.

Although not an outright ban, the EU move adds another hurdle to countries desperate for vaccines and risks widening the vaccine divide between rich and poor countries.

That divide was bluntly displayed in a recent study published by the Economist Intelligence Unit on Tuesday, which predicted the world’s poorest countries would have to wait until 2024 before residents would be fully vaccinated.

Self-interest or self-defeating? Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda event on Tuesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa accused wealthy countries of “hoarding” global vaccine supplies. “This is being done to the exclusion of other countries in the world that most need this,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at the same event, appeared to agree with Ramaphosa. “It has become even clearer to me than it was before that we need to choose a multilateral approach, that a self-isolating approach won’t solve our problems,” she said, adding that the question of who receives the vaccine and who doesn’t will leave “new wounds and new memories.”

Vaccines as public goods. Amid the talk of multilateralism, not much seems to be getting done, even when solutions exist. Jutta Paulus, a Green Party health expert in the European Parliament, has proposed one way out: declaring the vaccines public goods so more manufacturers can produce them. “There must be shared licenses now, because the vaccines have been developed with public money,” Paulus told Deutsche Welle. The idea isn’t necessarily new: South Africa and India have been pursuing a similar approach, albeit without success, at the World Trade Organization.

The cost of doing nothing. The costs of pursuing an uneven global vaccine strategy are high. According to a study by the International Chamber of Commerce, the global economy stands to lose up to $9 trillion if poor countries are left behind as wealthy countries vaccinate their populations—half of that economic damage will be seen in rich countries, the study says.

Everybody wins. Writing in Foreign Policy, Arnab Acharya and Sanjay G. Reddy make a compelling case for why the respect for intellectual property rights as a means to incentivize innovation doesn’t withstand scrutiny, and how pharmaceutical companies can still be rewarded handsomely while freely licensing their vaccine technology.

What We’re Following Today

Davos in the desert. Saudi Arabia’s annual Future Investment Initiative conference, the so-called  “Davos in the Desert” begins today in Riyadh with a host of high-profile attendees, proving the kingdom is slowly shaking off the reputational damage caused by the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018. Investment heavyweights such as BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, and Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman will all be in attendance, despite all declining to participate in the event in 2018 following the killing of Khashoggi.

Writing in Foreign Policy, John Spacapan advises the Biden administration to move slowly with its plans to reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship and to shun Congressional calls to sever ties. “If Washington wants reform in Riyadh,” Spacapan writes, “it should consider what worries Saudi Arabia most—abandonment by the United States.”

Biden’s U.N. pick faces the Senate. Linda Thomas-Greenfield will face a hearing today in front of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to consider her nomination for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A long-time career diplomat, Thomas-Greenfield is expected to be confirmed with broad support. Behind the scenes, Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report on the new U.N. staffers likely to take up their positions under Thomas-Greenfield’s command in both Washington and New York.

New START starts up. The United States and Russia have “agreed in principle” to extend the nuclear weapons treaty known as New START by five years, according to a Kremlin readout of a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday. The Kremlin added that Putin had already submitted a draft bill approving the extension to the Russian parliament. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not confirm the Russian version of the call but said that both sides were working to smooth out details before a Feb. 5 deadline.

CAR violence. Central African Republic Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada reported that government forces had killed at least 44 rebels in the latest attempt to suppress groups that threatened to overrun the capital Bangui earlier this month. The offensive took place roughly 50 miles from the capital and follows another in the south of the country that was conducted with the help of Rwandan and Russian troops. Taken together, the maneuvers mean the government now controls the two main roads to Bangui. 

Ugandan election aftermath. Opposition leader Bobi Wine accused President Yoweri Museveni of using the military and the police “to oppress his opponents and to suppress our rights” after he was freed from 11 days of house arrest following disputed elections on Jan. 14. Museveni was declared to have won Uganda’s presidential election earlier this month, winning roughly 59 percent in an election judged by the United States as fundamentally flawed. Wine’s campaign team will decide whether to contest the results of the presidential election and have until a deadline of Feb. 2 to do so.

The British government has thrown its weight behind a new method to control its exploding grey squirrel population: issuing the animals oral contraceptives. The invasive North American species has become a menace to the British countryside, authorities say, and their presence has dramatically dwindled the native red squirrel population.

The initiative is led by a group of organizations under the umbrella name the UK Squirrel Accord (UKSA) and has the backing of Prince Charles, a UKSA founder.

Simon Lloyd, the head of the Royal Forestry Society has endorsed the move, telling the Daily Telegraph that the grey squirrels threaten the life of new trees, and therefore carbon capture and biodiversity efforts.

The UKSA say they have spent the last three years testing methods for delivering the contraceptives to grey squirrels only. They finally settled on special feeding stations complete with hazelnut paste bait.

That’s it for today.

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Photo credit: JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP 

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