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EU moves to limit exports of medical equipment outside the bloc

Brussels on Sunday (15 March) imposed an EU-wide export ban for some medical protective equipment in a bid to keep sufficient supplies within the bloc, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced.

On Monday (16 March), the Commission will also launch joint public procurement with member countries for testing kits and respiratory ventilators and present guidelines to national governments on border measures, she said. The Commission is already in the process of jointly procuring face masks for 20 countries.

The EU is moving on three fronts: working with industry to boost production, keeping in the EU the protective equipment needed, and sharing equipment within the EU, according to von der Leyen.

On Sunday (15 March), the Commission published a so-called implementing act to protect the availability of supplies of personal protective equipment, by requiring that exports to non-EU countries be subject to authorization by member states. It will be national governments, and not the Council, that will have to greenlight exports. The new authorization requirement will be valid for a six-week period.

A spokesman for the Commission said the export controls came into effect shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday (15 March).

At the same time, the Commission is moving to ensure that medical equipment continues to circulate within the EU.


EU wants zero-tariff Brexit deal, but will fine anticompetitive behavior

Brussels is willing to establish a zero-tariff area for goods with the U.K. but it will impose fines on unfair competitive behavior, according to a draft text for a future relations agreement with the U.K.

The 441-page document — sent by the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, to EU countries and the European Parliament ahead of the negotiating round next week and seen by POLITICO — proposes to “establish a free trade area in trade in goods” in which “customs duties on goods originating in the other party shall be prohibited.”

On services, Brussels aims “to establish a favorable climate for the development of trade and investment.” The proposal also seeks to avoid non-tariff trade barriers and promote public procurement and digital trade.

However, referring to “the geographic proximity and economic interdependence and connectedness” of both partners, the proposal says that the parties should “agree to establish robust commitments” to ensure fair trade.

It proposes strict clauses on the so-called level playing field for keeping equal social, environmental and competition standards, stressing that the agreement “can only deliver benefits in a mutually satisfactory way if it prevents distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages.”

To police these clauses, the EU proposes an arbitration tribunal that can issue rulings and impose fines. According to the text, if one party fails to comply with a ruling, the other side could “impose a lump sum or penalty payment,” whose size would depend “on the seriousness [of the violation] and the duration both of the non-compliance.”

When EU law is concerned — for example in the area of state aid — then the Court of Justice of the European Union should have a say, the text insists. The U.K. has constantly rejected this proposal.

The U.K. will also send its draft deal proposal to the EU next week, Cabinet Office chief Michael Gove said Monday (9 March).


Middle East

Dhofar Customs officials meet Al Mazunah Free Zone officials in Oman

The Directorate General of Customs of the Royal Oman Police at Dhofar Governorate held a meeting recently with officials of Al Mazunah Free Zone, which pertains to the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates – Madayn. The meeting was also attended by investors, CEOs and representatives of the companies and factories based at Al Mazunah Free Zone.

The meeting discussed the current challenges facing investors and highlighted recommendations to improve the quality of services in the free zone. The officials also emphasized on the importance to accelerate customs clearance procedures by the borders and Al Mazunah Free Zone in order to deliver effective services to the investors and business owners.




EU unveils ‘partnership plans’ for new Africa strategy

Partnerships on ten policy areas are at the heart of the EU’s plan “Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa,” launched on Monday (9 March). The paper will start a seven-month negotiating process with EU and African leaders, with a view to agreeing a partnership agenda at an EU African Union summit in October.

The document proposes partnerships covering green transition; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility. The EU hopes that it marks a shift towards a less paternalist approach to its relations with African leaders.

“Africa is the European Union’s natural partner and neighbor,” said European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, who added that “today’s Strategy with Africa is the roadmap to move forward and bring our partnership to the next level.

The EU last published a ‘Strategy’ for its Africa policy back in 2005, at the heart of which were its ill-fated Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with African regional blocs, only one of which has come into force.

On 27 February, the EU executive took ten of its Commissioners to an EU-AU college meeting in Addis Ababa, a sign, EU officials say, of the bloc’s intentions to intensify political co-operation with the AU.

But the EU has lost plenty of diplomatic and political ground in Africa to China and others in recent years, although the EU executive is at pains to stress that Europe remains the largest single source of foreign direct investment into the African continent.

African diplomats complain that EU conditions tied to its investment vehicles are too restrictive and that EU-Africa trade deals are skewed in favor of Europe and do not allow African countries to develop domestic industries. The result, they say, is that the vast majority of the continent’s exports to Europe are in raw commodities.

The 19-page document concedes that “Africa’s potential attracts increased interest from many players on the world scene” and that this means that this “means that Europe, with the EU and its member states working together in unison, must adapt the way it engages with Africa.”