Coronavirus: EU imposes export controls on protective kit

Out-Law News | 17 Mar 2020 | 2:28 pm | 1 min. read

A six week ban on exporting face masks, gloves, visors and protective clothing outside of the EU without prior authorisation has been imposed as demand for the kit grows in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

The export controls on "personal protective equipment" took effect on 14 March after the European Commission introduced emergency legislation in response to potential future shortages of the kit.

"Despite the fact that increased production has been encouraged, the current level of Union production and existing stocks will not be sufficient to meet the demand within the Union," the Commission said.

The export of the kit to non-EU countries will be permitted only under "specific circumstances" when authorised by a national government of an EU country, such as "to ensure assistance provided to third countries", depending on the needs of EU member states at the time.

Stacy Keen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said it is possible that further export controls could be imposed by the Commission as the impact of coronavirus, officially named Covid-19, intensifies.

"The Regulation was brought into force with almost immediate effect using the powers available to the European Commission to do so where 'duly justified imperative grounds of urgency' exist," Keen said. "The specific justification relied upon in this case was the 'the fast spreading of the Covid-19 infection' and to 'prevent speculative depletion of stocks'. The measures in the Regulation will automatically cease to apply in six weeks. However it is feasible, subject to the state of play at the time, that the equivalent or similar measures could be introduced anew."

The European Commission described personal protective equipment as "an essential product". This is because "it is necessary to prevent the further spreading of the disease, and safeguard the health of medical staff treating infected patients".

Production of personal protective equipment in the EU is "currently concentrated" in four countries – the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Poland, the Commission said. As the demand for the equipment grows, shortages of the kit in "several" EU countries is anticipated, it said.

The Commission said: "The demand for medical protective equipment has been exacerbated in the last days and is expected to continue increasing significantly in the imminent future with accompanying shortages developing in several member states. Constraints exist throughout the EU single market to meet customers demand for the relevant personal protective equipment, in particular mouth protection masks. At this moment in time, there are on-going efforts to increase manufacturing capabilities. This may feed into review of the measure as necessary and as situation evolves."