Wallenberg warns against using Covid as an excuse for protectionism


EU politicians are using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for protectionism in areas such as vaccine production and face masks, according to one of Europe’s leading industrialists.

Jacob Wallenberg, the Swedish entrepreneur whose family controls significant stakes in companies from AstraZeneca and Ericsson to ABB and Nasdaq, told the Financial Times that the vaccines have worked well because they are being processed on a “truly international level. While most face masks came from China.

Using this as “an excuse for relocation goes too far,” he said. “When I listen to politicians, I hear about the concept of relocation, the concept that Europe should do more at home. My concern is that you end up with more protectionist tendencies. “

The European Commission and key policy makers have argued that the EU should have ‘open strategic autonomy’ in certain sectors and trade areas to ensure the region has independent supply chains.

Speaking as chairman of the trade and market access committee of the European Roundtable for Industry – a group of 60 key leaders and chairs from across the continent – Wallenberg warned that the strategy risked undermining creating barriers to global supply chains, which had actually helped Europe through the pandemic.

“There have been discussions to start producing vaccines in all countries, including mine,” said the Swedish industrialist. “I think the fact that the vaccines were processed on a truly international level is the reason we received the vaccines as quickly as we did. There, the avoidance of autonomy was very important.

France’s decision at the start of the pandemic to seize millions of face masks shipped to the rest of the EU by Mölnlycke, which is owned by the Wallenberg family holding company, has disturbed both the industrialist and the government. Swedish.

In May, the European Commission unveiled an update to its industrial strategy, calling for action to address supply chain vulnerabilities identified during the pandemic. The commission identified 137 products in the most sensitive ecosystems – such as raw materials, batteries, pharmaceutical ingredients, hydrogen, semiconductors and cloud technologies – where the EU was heavily dependent on imports from from third countries, in particular China.

In a report to be released on Monday, the European Round Table warns that any intervention aimed at strengthening the resilience of European supply chains – even on critical goods – “should be the exception, not the rule”.

He called for more openness in European supply chains and greater engagement with industry in relations with China, despite mounting tensions over the crackdown in Hong Kong and human rights abuses. man in Xinjiang.

Earlier this year, the Wallenberg family’s interests were overtaken by Sweden’s ban on Huawei’s access to 5G networks.

Wallenberg, who had publicly criticized the Swedish ban on Huawei, said the only way forward was to “find common ground” with China. As the world’s second-largest economy, China is “a very important partner for us,” he said. “The alternative, stop doing that. . . is a dramatic change in the world.

Nonetheless, he added that the EU must be ready to defend its companies against unfair practices. “I think it is important that the EU has a strong position and that it stands up for it,” he said.

Wallenberg welcomed European initiatives to filter foreign investment more closely.

“I think it’s very appropriate that we have tools of this nature in place. I think it’s about making sure that you can apply the principles of a level playing field, ”he said. “If we find ourselves in a situation where it doesn’t work. . . of course there must be consequences.

The European Round Table called on Brussels to form a dedicated unit to manage the relationship with China.

He stressed that while the United States remained a key strategic partner, Europe should not “copy and paste” the more aggressive stance taken by Washington on relations with China. Europe must “stand on its own feet”, he said.

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