France Expands Export Bans on Drugs for Coronavirus Treatment despite EU Calls
Some Eastern European EU members such as Poland and Slovakia have already heeded EU calls and reversed drug export bans.
France’s government has ignored calls from the European Union to do away with export bans on drugs amid the coronavirus outbreak, and has instead expanded the list of medications whose sale abroad is prohibited.
The European Commission, the EU executive sent a letter to the French government on April 7, calling for the lifting of export restrictions on dozens of drugs used in the treatment of coronavirus patients, according to EU officials cited by Reuters and France24.
Paris, however, did not heed the EC call, but instead expanded the list of medications with export bans, according to a letter sent by the French drugs regulatory body ANSM to pharmaceutical distributors, which was seen by Reuters.
The letter was sent just two days before Thursday’s conference call of EU leaders, which is expected to offer a path forward in terms of enhanced financial solidarity in the Union against the backdrop of tackling the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences for the common market.
The temporary restrictions, which the EC fears might cause drug shortages in other EU members, apply to the French pharmaceutical distributors, whereas manufacturers, such as French pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi, are exempt from the export curbs.
The French prime minister’s office, the health ministry and the drugs regulator have not commented on the report.
One industry source with direct knowledge of the matter, however, is quoted as saying that the French restrictions were aimed at preventing distributors from selling drugs abroad at higher prices during France’s own severe outbreak of COVID-19, the disease cased by the virus.
According to the ANSM lists, the drugs, which are banned from being exported, including antibiotics, painkillers, sedatives, muscle relaxants, insulin, and several drugs being tested as possible treatments for COVID-19, including remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and ritonavir.
Some EU states such as Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands are already facing shortages of some of the drugs in question. These include atracurium and rocuronium, two muscle relaxants used to connect critically ill COVID-19 patients to ventilators.
This information is based on an EU internal list of medicines in shortage, dated April 1 and seen by Reuters.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission is quoted as saying that France was among the few EU countries that had ignored calls to lift certain trade barriers on medicines.
She said talks were underway to persuade France, a key hub for drugs distribution across Europe, to remove “disproportionate” restrictions.
In her words, if no compromise is reached, the EC could initiate legal action against France.
Half of EU states have long lists of drugs whose exports have been restricted during the coronavirus emergency, with measures varying from total bans to authorization requirements.
The EC has warned that the restrictions in question might cause shortages in other members of the European Union.
It sent letters to France, Poland, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and other central-eastern European countries urging them to remove barriers “that could hamper our collective ability to respond to the coronavirus outbreak effectively,” according to an EU document seen by Reuters.
Some eastern states have partly heeded the EU calls, three EU officials said, citing Poland and Slovakia among countries that have removed some restrictions.
In early March, France also curbed the exports of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, causing an outcry.
Even though the move was declared legal by the EC, it caused similar steps by other EU member states, exacerbating the PPE shortage throughout Europe.
Germany also banned the exports of PPE at first but rescinded the restrictions under EU pressure.
(Banner image: TV grab from France24)