The EU has notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of steps it has taken to fight the coronavirus. This follows a commitment by G20 members at a virtual ministerial meeting at the end of March to provide full transparency of all policies that might affect international trade.
Ensuring the flow of goods and services
In order to address the immediate public health crisis the EU is seeking to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products and other goods and services across borders. To do that it has taken action to facilitate trade flows as well as a time-limited requirement to authorise exports for vital personal protective equipment. To ensure transparency the EU is making formal WTO notifications about steps taken in the context of the coronavirus crisis which touch on international trade.
Import duty and VAT relief on products needed to fight coronavirus
On 3 April, the European Commission approved requests from Member States and the UK temporarily to waive customs duties and VAT on the import of medical devices and protective equipment (masks and protective equipment, testing kits, ventilators) from outside the EU to make those products more accessible. See Import relief on coronavirus-related goods.
The Commission has set out guidelines for border measures to protect citizens’ health, ensure the right treatment of people who do have to travel and make sure essential goods and services remain available and prevent shortages of medical equipment or food. See https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_468.
To keep freight moving across the EU and help protect transport workers during the current pandemic, the Commission requested Member States to designate all the internal border-crossing points on the trans-European transport network as “green lane” border crossings. These should be open to all freight vehicles, whatever goods they are carrying. Crossing the border — including any checks and health screening — should not take more than 15 minutes. See EU sets up green lanes to keep goods moving.
Facilitating air cargo operations
The Commission has also recommended steps to keep essential freight moving by air, including removing or showing flexibility in night curfews or slot restrictions at airports and special measures for air cargo personnel. These exceptional measures will be temporary for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. See EU aims to keep essential freight moving by air.
Human, animal and plant health and animal welfare measures
Temporary measures to contain risks linked to control system disruptions due to coronavirus entered into force at the end of March to apply until 1 June 2020. See https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/reg_impl/2020/466/oj.
Public procurement guidance
The Commission and Member States have already launched joint procurement actions for various medical supplies. To add to this, the Commission has published guidance on how to use all the options and flexibilities available under the EU public procurement framework for the purchase of supplies, services and works needed to address the crisis. See https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.CI.2020.108.01.0001.01.ENG.
In order to secure the availability of supplies of personal protective equipment in the EU, the export of such equipment outside the EU now requires an export authorisation by Member States. The implementing act was published on 15 March and is valid for six weeks. Other products could be added in the future. See EU guidance on export requirements for PPE.