Australia's trade chief heads to Europe to discuss Covid-19 vaccine exports

Mr Tehan has said he wants to complete trade deals with both the UK and EU by the end of 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan will travel for face-to-face talks with ministerial counterparts in Germany, France and Brussels from Thursday (April 15), after the European Union restricted exports of Covid-19 vaccines.

The talks will address "the supply of EU-produced Covid-19 vaccines that Australia has contracted and how we can work with the EU to enhance the global supply of vaccines", Mr Tehan said in an emailed statement.

He will also meet with European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis and UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss to progress free-trade agreement negotiations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who originally pledged that all Australians would receive a first vaccine dose by October, said on Sunday that he won't set a new target date due to health concerns about AstraZeneca's shot and European export restrictions.

While Mr Morrison has defended his government's vaccine rollout strategy, he's been criticized by the main opposition Labor party for falling about three million doses short so far on a previously promised timeline, and for not securing more deals with pharmaceutical producers.

Last month, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country had raised the issue of the export restrictions with the European Commission through "multiple channels" and had asked for the decision to be reviewed.

Mr Hunt now says Europe is unlikely to provide 3.1 million outstanding doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the bloc's tightened export rules. About 1.2 million people in the nation of more than 25 million have received a first dose.

Mr Tehan, appointed Australia's trade chief in December, has said he wants to complete trade deals with both the UK and EU by the end of the year.

As a bloc, the EU is Australia's fourth-largest trading partner and third-biggest source of foreign investment, while the nation's annual trade with the UK is worth about US$23.5 billion (S$31.5 billion).

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.