COVID-19: Open trade must ensure EU supply of essential medical tools, MEPs say 

Press Releases 
  • New EU trade policy must secure supply of essential medical equipment  
  • Trade must remain open and rules-based 
  • Renewal of requirement for export authorisations with exemption of Western Balkans welcomed 

Trade Committee MEPs discussed the effects of the coronavirus crisis on future trade and an overhaul of EU trade priorities with Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, on Tuesday.

Trade has to remain open, based on cooperation and rules, while national protectionism has to be limited, emphasised MEPs in a remote meeting, discussing the renewal of the requirement for export authorisations on personal protective equipment and the effects of COVID-19 on the EU’s trade.

Review supply chains

Several MEPs underlined that Europe needs to review the very supply chains that left it without sufficient medical equipment when COVID-19 hit. “Trade policy in the future needs to secure the provision of medical equipment,” said Inma Rodríguez-Piñero (S&D, ES).

While the Commission should look into the viability of European supply chains, as was also highlighted by Emmanuel Maurel (GUE, FR), it must ensure that European importers carry out due diligence to ensure that there are no human rights violations during the production, said Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI), citing news about such violations in Malaysia.

European production of medical gear

The Commission’s moves to ramp up production raised the number of EU companies making masks from 11-12 to 500, said Commissioner Hogan, illustrating EU action in the wake of the pandemic.

Maximilian Krah (ID, DE) noted that besides more production, the EU must also guarantee that its import channels remain open and third countries do not introduce reciprocal measures against the EU’s own export control measures.

Trade flows ebb

Recent Commission figures show that the crisis would significantly reduce trade flows in 2020. This has made the review of the EU’s trade policy necessary, Commissioner Hogan said. Such a review will extend, among others, to trade defence instruments, Foreign Direct Investment screening, trade liberalisation, and WTO reform. Lowering tariffs on medical goods globally should also be part of the plan, said Karin Karlsbro (Renew, SE).

“We will need an export-led recovery, respecting free trade. Where barriers go up, opportunities are lost,” emphasised Christophe Hansen (EPP, LU). “The challenge is to find balance to protect strategic industries and our citizens, while conducting an open, investment friendly policy,” remarked Geert Bourgeois (ECR, BE).

Selling face masks outside the EU

The requirement to have export authorisations on personal protective equipment - including face masks, gloves, mouth and nose coverage - must remain temporary, and must be accompanied by measures to scale up the European production of such gear, said the Trade Committee on 3 April.

The Commission took on board the MEPs’ demand to exempt Western Balkan countries so that protective equipment can be sold freely to Europe’s neighbours and delivered to humanitarian organisations.


The Commission estimates that EU exports are going to decrease by 9.2 percent to €285 billion as a result of the pandemic in 2020. Imports into the EU will also be 8.8 percent, or €240 billion, lower. Global trade will decrease by 9.7 percent, the Commission data show.

Under the temporary export authorisation regime introduced by the Commission in March, in reaction to national measures restricting trade within the EU, companies producing essential protective equipment have to request export authorisations to sell their products beyond the EU. The Commission has extended the validity of these measures by 30 days beyond its original expiry date of 25 April.

Open economies derive benefits from international trade, emphasised a recent resolution of the Parliament on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.