The EU’s top diplomat called on Wednesday for more “strategic autonomy” in medical supply chains in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has seen countries run out of crucial equipment.
In an interview with European newspapers, including Austria’s Die Presse, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: “It is not normal that Europe doesn’t produce a single gram of paracetamol, and 80% of the antibiotics production of the world is concentrated in China.”
Reliance on global markets for supplies has become the norm, Borrell noted, adding: “In a moment of crisis, this has been proved not to be true.”
“The supply chain should be shorter and why not have production centres nearby?” asked Borrell, referring to the possibility of developing production capacity in Africa in particular.
The pandemic had also showed the need for strategic stocks of medical supplies in the same way as there are currently stocks of oil, Borrell said.
Asked repeatedly whether he believed US President Donald Trump’s claim that the novel coronavirus had originated in a Chinese lab, Borrell replied: “It is not a matter of believing or not.”
“I am not in the mind of the president of the United States,” Borrell said.
“He is a responsible man in a very important position – I suppose when he says something, he has accurate information. But I don’t know this information.”
Pressed on whether China had provided all the information available about where and how the virus originated, Borrell said there was “different information about it” but insisted: “I am not going to participate in the blame game.”
“For sure we need more transparency and as much as possible scientific research done in an independent way” into the origins of the virus, Borrell said.
“I think China is also very much interested in that.”
Last week the EU’s diplomatic service denied bowing to Chinese pressure to water down a report on coronavirus disinformation to soften criticism of Beijing.
Borrell dismissed the row as a “storm in a teacup”.
“Yes: the Chinese diplomacy complained. We complain, too. Everybody complains,” he said, insisting: “It has not changed at all the scope of the report that we published.”
Asked directly whether the Chinese government was behind disinformation over coronavirus, Borrell replied: “It depends. What do you mean with disinformation?”
“Dangerous information that is putting lives at risk, surely does not come from the Chinese government,” he said.