The EU is currently on a knife edge – one step in the wrong direction and the implications will be felt globally

International negotiations expert, Tony Hughes, reveals why an EU export ban would be disastrous for the global economy.

EU / UK negotiations have once again come under the spotlight this month, as the EU considers restricting the export of Covid-19 vaccines to the UK in a bid to ensure the EU bloc can meet its own vaccination targets. With Ursula von der Leyen warning that the EU has the power to “forbid” exports” this weekend, the heat is now on as negotiations ensue between UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and EU leaders to avoid draconian measures on exports being put in place. 

Of course, this is no clear-cut negotiation. There is not a simple win-win scenario where everyone is a perceived a winner. This makes securing an advantageous conclusion for the EU, UK and indeed wider Global parties problematic. An issue only exasperated by the emotive rhetoric and finger pointing we can currently see playing out. 

Successful negotiations are reliant on a mutually beneficial outcome. And to achieve this outcome takes great skill, not least when there are so many parties involved in a potential agreement. As it stands, the EU is on a knife edge – once step in the wrong direction and the implications will be felt globally. 

The proposed export ban is a result of a disagreement with manufacturers over vaccine shortfall. However, the conversations have quickly escalated beyond a negotiation between an organisation and its buyer, and now holds international weight. This rapid escalation has left the negotiation table crowded. No longer is this about reaching a mutually agreeable outcome between a manufacturer and a customer, it now involves 27 EU heads of state, the UK Government and pressure from 100 countries worldwide, including the US, Canada and Australia. 

It’s clear then, that these negotiations have become complex, high pressured and even higher profile. All of which only goes to strain efforts to meet a resolution. It is this complexity that must be overcome if the EU and AstraZeneca are to deescalate tensions and work effectively to a conclusion that causes minimal disruption. 

To avoid a global fall out as a result of an imposed EU export ban, it is critical that both the EU and those involved in the AstraZeneca negotiations apply proven negotiation techniques. In a relatively short time the focus should now be placed on putting emotive rhetoric, such as Ursula von der Leyen’s “This is a message to AstraZeneca”, to one side and instead placing the emphasis on persuading and influencing. 

For a successful result, all involved need to be forthright and flexible as building back trust is crucial. Whilst it may be tempting for counter threats to be issued, the real priority has to be understanding the concerns and frustrations each party holds and look at solutions to these concerns. 

The advantage of this approach, is that both parties feel heard. It also means that the negotiators are able to unpick their counterparts’ priorities and pressure points. In this instance, the EU is under growing pressure to address the slow roll out of its vaccination programme, whilst the UK faces pressure to deliver on promises made to citizens about a roll out completion date. 

Understanding the complexities and consequences of these priorities is vital to both parties reaching an agreeable outcome. 

Successful negotiators are able to achieve the best possible deal for themselves, that still allows a win for the other side. In light of the global pandemic, a win for one side is simply not an option. 

The EU must balance its international reputation, with its need to fast track its roll out programme. Failure to do so could lead to EU governments showing very real frustration with Brussels, and a breakdown in trust and cooperation between member states, the union and countries across the globe.