COVID-19 EU border closures and Brexit impacts movement of medical supplies

Free goods movement restrictions, imposed by the majority of EU countries at their borders to control the spread COVID-19, are disrupting supply chains, including crucial drug and medical equipment supplies. Whereas imposing internal borders had never been in the EU’s plans before the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK – which is due to leave the bloc by the end of the year – needs to keep a close eye on supply chain issues to avoid the same problems once customs checks are imposed between the EU and the UK, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Urte Jakimaviciute, MSc, Senior Director of Market Research at GlobalData, commented: “After the Withdrawal Agreement was signed, amid looming time pressure, Britain’s officials were quick to announce that they will be seeking a similar trade model to that of Canada-EU. While customs, VAT checks and the import tariffs on most goods are eliminated under the Canada-EU deal, differently from Canada the UK will move from a single market access and commercial integration to border-imposed controls.

“For pharma it would mean continued pressure on the UK’s medicines supply chain, as despite the scale of the UK pharmaceutical industry, the UK imports a significant amount of medications from the EU, with Dover and Folkestone being main entry points.”

To cope with the supply issues, the EU has introduced fast-track lanes – priority channels for the transport of much needed goods, including medicines. For freight transport going through these lanes, border crossings should be accessible 24/7 and, according to the EU guidelines, border processing time should take no more than 15 minutes.

Jakimaviciute continues: “While the ‘green lanes’ are easing up the pressure of supply shortages in Europe, including critical hospital medicines used to treat COVID-19 patients, the wait times are still not down to the 15 minute target at the busiest checkpoints. If a similar system is implemented in the UK, the waiting time may be much longer, as carriers are required to undergo only minimal checks in the EU.”

According to the EU guidance, any required checks and screening should be completed without drivers having to leave their vehicles and they should not be requested to provide any documents except for identification, driving license, and a letter from the employer. Under this scheme the electronic submission documentation is not accepted.

Jakimaviciute adds: “Currently the UK’s pharma sector is part of the integrated EU supply chain that ensures frictionless transfer of pharmaceutical ingredients and finished goods within the bloc. Whereas the UK’s politicians praised the idea of implementing a high tech digital border and electronic identification to ease up custom checks post-Brexit, it may not happen within the current transitional period timeframe. Any digital borders require technological uniformity and legislative framework to be established before the digital check can take place.”

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