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DAVOS 2021: Japan and Korea attack EU's vaccine nationalism

Taro Kono, Japan's minister in charge of administrative reform. Photo: Eugene Hoshiko/AP
Taro Kono, Japan's minister in charge of administrative reform. Photo: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Government ministers from Japan and Korea have attacked the vaccine nationalism of the European Union, urging the bloc not to adopt export controls on COVID-19 vaccines and urging international cooperation.

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of Japan’s COVID-19 response, and Kang Kyung-Wha, South Korea’s foreign minister, both expressed concerns over about growing vaccine nationalism during a panel at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda conference on Friday.

“I am a bit concerned that the EU has announced that the EU may block the export of vaccine produced in Europe until a sufficient amount is provided to European people before they allow any export to third countries,” Kono said.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca publishes vaccine contract after pressure from EU

The EU this week threatened to introduce export controls on COVID-19 vaccines in response to a row with AstraZeneca over supply. The EU has accused AstraZeneca (AZN.L) of unfairly diverting doses of its vaccine produced in Europe to the UK.

“We are concerned that two types of those vaccines may be blocked in Europe,” Kono said. “We never suspected that. I’m very concerned some government may try to be more nationalistic.”

Kono said it was “understandable” that leaders wanted to prioritise their own populations but said it was “not wise to start disrupting this global supply chain.”

WATCH: EU Says AstraZeneca Must Meet Contractual, Moral Obligations

READ MORE: Netanyahu warns COVID-19 'arms race' will last for years

“It could lead to some kind of retaliation and we could end up trying to produce everything in [our] own country and that is not economical and in many countries that is not possible,” he said.

Kang Kyung-Wha, South Korea’s foreign minister, said vaccine nationalism was fuelling “global disunity” and leaving many developing nations out in the cold.

“Understandably every government’s first priority is to keep its people safe and thus each government is eager to secure enough vaccine for its population but it is hard to understand why some governments are grabbing the vaccines in volumes that are many times more than their population size,” she said.

South Korea's foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha. Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP
South Korea's foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha. Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP

Many developed countries preordered hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines while they were still in development stages. A large number have proved successful, leaving many countries oversupplied. The EU has pre-ordered 2.3 billion doses of vaccines for a population of 440 million.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca CEO criticises 'me first' approach to COVID

The bloc has pledged to give spare doses to developing nations but Kyung-Wha said the rush to secure vaccines was unhelpful.

“This only exacerbates the uncertainty for the rest of the world,” she said. “Others are prompted to scramble to get whatever is left with the pharmaceutical companies.”

On a separate Davos panel earlier on Friday, EU executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis played down the prospect of a trade embargo. He said the EU was considering a “time limited system to ensure clarity on production and exports in the EU” and said any new regime would only apply to products covered by advance purchase agreements.

READ MORE: COVID-19 crisis won't end until developing nations get vaccine

“Unfortunately, not all pharmaceutical companies have acted in the spirit of full transparency with the EU,” Dombrovskis said. “We must of course ensure that companies are meeting their full contractual obligations.”

WATCH: AstraZeneca publishes vaccine contract with EU