Transatlantic Trade Update text overlaid on top of images of US, UK and EU flagsIn the early hours of 22 February, at the direction of the Kremlin, Russian Federation military forces crossed Ukraine’s borders from multiple fronts, beginning an assault that appears to be an effort to seize control of the country via the capital, Kyiv.  Western allies – the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) and others – immediately condemned Russia, unveiling a number of coordinated punitive sanctions over the course of the week that seek to maximize consequences for Russia and show unity against the invasion of a sovereign state.  By Sunday, with Russian forces facing fierce resistance from Ukrainians and unable to swiftly capture Kyiv, Ukraine officials indicated they were willing to meet with Russian officials in a neutral location, countering Russia’s proposal to meet in Belarus, a country from which Russian military forces have been launching rockets and military forces into Ukraine.  Meanwhile, transatlantic partners are moving to provide Ukraine with lethal assistance, as it continues to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

While the war in Ukraine continues to occupy the attention of transatlantic leaders, the EU separately moved forward with a proposal related to corporate sustainability due diligence bringing environmental and human rights due diligence duties to companies and their directors.  In Washington, the US Trade Representative hosted some European leaders for bilateral and EU-related discussions.  The UK’s International Trade Secretary departed London for the Indo-Pacific region this week, stopping in Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

In this issue, we cover:

  • Ukraine and Russia at war and transatlantic responses;
  • Other notable US, UK, and EU developments;
  • A brief UK-EU trade deal update; and
  • COVID-19 highlights among the transatlantic partners.

Ukraine-Russia War | Western Allies Respond

As the US Government was observing a Federal holiday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a televised speech on Monday his decision to initiate a military operation in Ukraine, despite intensified diplomatic attempts over the past few weeks seeking to deter this outcome.  He recognized the independence and sovereignty of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LNR”) – regions within Ukraine that have had separatists movements supported by Russia.

President Putin also sought to justify the need for a Russian military intervention on the pretext that the “Ukraine regime” is committing acts of genocide against the ethnic Russians in Ukraine.  He further stated the special military operation he authorized had the goal of protecting “people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years.”  He added,

And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who committed numerous, bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.”

President Putin ordered “peacekeeping” troops into the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions Monday night, effectively terminating the détente established by the 2015 Minsk Agreements.  The US Government immediately denounced Russia’s moves.

US President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order (related fact sheet) on Monday evening that imposed new restrictions related on investments in the Russian-occupied DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine.  Notably, the White House shied away from labeling the Russian troop movements as an “invasion” or “incursion.”  A White House press briefing Monday night instead stressed,

I do also want to remind you and everyone on the call that the Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step.  Russia has had forces in the Donbas region for the past eight years.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky reported early in the invasion that Russian military forces carried out missile strikes on his country’s infrastructure and on border guards.  Russian forces met fierce resistance from Ukrainians, both private citizens and military forces, slowing their assault on the country.  Ukraine also still managed to keep control of its airspace, while closing it to commercial aircraft on 24 February.  Meanwhile, Russian forces took control of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster.  With Russian military activity in the exclusion zone – the 1,000-square-mile barren area around the nuclear plant – there are fears of radioactive material spreading from fighting in the area.  The International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that radiation measurements were slightly elevated, possibly because of tank movement on radiated soil, as it continues to monitor closely the situation.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies immediately condemned Russia’s actions, as an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council was called.  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russiato immediately cease its military action, withdraw its forces from Ukraine, and choose diplomacy.” He added,

We fully support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and Ukraine’s right of self-defence”.

The NATO Secretary General further announced the North Atlantic Council had decided to activate NATO’s defence plans.

By Tuesday morning, US President Joe Biden stated a Russian invasion into Ukraine was underway, as he announced the first tranche of US sanctions, in coordination with allies and partners in the EU, UK, Canada, Japan, and Australia. The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two Russian banks:  (1) Corporation Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs Vnesheconombank (VEB), and (2) Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company (PSB), along with 42 of their subsidiaries.  Treasury also designated influential Russians and their family members in Putin’s inner circle believed to be participating in the Russian regime’s kleptocracy, including the Chairman and CEO of PSB.

In a surprise announcement on 22 February, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz announced his decision to halt the approval process for the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.  While this is a technical step, the certification is needed for the project to become operational.  The next day, US President Biden welcomed the Chancellor’s decision on the pipeline; he further announced the US Government was imposing sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers.

On 23 February, the EU imposed sanctions against 351 members of the Russian State Duma who endorsed the President Putin’s appeal to recognize the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “Republics” as well as on 27 high-profile Russian individuals and entities.  The package also included “an import ban on goods from the non-government controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, restrictions on trade and investments related to certain economic sectors, a prohibition to supply tourism services, and an export ban for certain goods and technologies.”  In addition, a sectoral prohibition for financing to the Russian Federation, the Russian Government and Russia’s Central Bank was introduced.

European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen said during a joint statement with European Council President Charles Michel and the NATO Secretary General on 24 February:

We call on Russia to immediately cease the hostilities, withdraw its military from Ukraine and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Such use of force and coercion has no place in the 21st century. The EU stands firmly by Ukraine and its people as they face this unparalleled crisis.”

The EU’s High Representative also condemned the Russian military operations and vouched for “massive consequences and severe costs” for Russia.

The US Treasury Department’s OFAC imposed additional sanctions on 24 February that target the core infrastructure of the Russian financial system — including all of Russia’s largest financial institutions and the ability of state-owned and private entities to raise capital — and further barred Russia from the global financial system.  The Treasury Department noted the action would affect nearly 80 percent of all banking assets in Russia.  OFAC sanctioned Russia’s two largest banks – Public Joint Stock Company Sberbank of Russia (Sberbank) and VTB Bank Public Joint Stock Company (VTB Bank) – along with almost 90 financial institution subsidiaries around the world.  Treasury also sanctioned additional Russian elites and their family members and imposed additional new prohibitions related to new debt and equity of major Russian state-owned enterprises and large privately owned financial institutions.  The White House released a fact sheet on these transatlantic sanctions against Russia.

Also on 24 February, OFAC sanctioned 24 Belarusian individuals and entities, citing Belarus’ support for, and facilitation of, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The action targeted Belarus’ defense sector and financial institutions, two areas in which Belarus has especially close ties to Russia.  This is in addition to five prior Belarus-related sanctions tranches by the US and allies in response to the degradation of democracy in Belarus.

The US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) further stated on 24 February that it would implement stringent export controls – effective 3 March – that would “severely restrict” Russia’s access to technologies and other items that it needs to sustain its military capabilities.  The restrictions include a number of US items, such as semiconductors, computers, telecommunications, information security equipment, lasers, and sensors.  The rule will also impose stringent controls on 49 Russian military end users, which have been added to the BIS Entity List.  Commerce noted the EU, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand have announced plans to implement substantially similar restrictions and are exempted from new requirements for items produced in their countries.  A related fact sheet on the new BIS rule is available here.

On 24 February, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss outlined the UK’s new sanctions on Russia’s economy that also targeted Putin’s inner circle.  The UK’s actions included freezing Russian bank assets in-country, sanctions on “more than 100 companies and oligarchs at the heart of Putin’s regime hit with sanctions today worth 100s of billions of pounds, asset freezes and travel bans”, new restrictions on trade and export controls against Russia’s hi-tech and strategic industries, banning Russia’s national airline Aeroflot from UK airspace, among other things.  The day before, Secretary Truss penned an opinion piece published by The Times, where she said of sanctions against Russia:

Nothing is off the table. This first wave will target the individuals and companies closest to the Kremlin. I held a conference call with our G7 allies to agree the next package. This is the start of a closely co-ordinated effort to ratchet up the pressure.”

An Extraordinary EU Summit was convened on 24 February to agree on the EU’s response to Russia and the package of sanctions.  The Conclusions noted the agreement on an important package of sanctions against Russia and the preparation of additional sanctions on Belarus.  The next day, the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers endorsed the sanctions package, which cover ’the financial sector, the energy and transport sectors, dual-use goods, export control and export financing, visa policy, additional sanctions against Russian individuals and new listing criteria.’  The sanctions include in particular an export ban of oil refining technologies, aircraft, spare parts and equipment to Russian airlines, as well as sensitive technologies.  Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov were also included in the sanctions imposed on individuals, as the EU froze their assets and imposed travel bans on them and other high-ranking Russian individuals.

The Group of Seven (G7) G7 Leaders reaffirmed their resolve to respond swiftly to President Putin’s “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine and expressed their solidarity with the people of Ukraine in a statement released on 24 February.  A White House summary of President Biden’s meeting with G7 Leaders further stressed,

The G7 makes up the world’s leading democracies and 50% of the world’s economy—and the costs the G7 will impose together on Russia will be unprecedented.”

On Friday, 25 February, the US and allies, including the UK, imposed sanctions on Russian President Putin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, and other members of Russia’s Security Council.  The US Treasury Department stated Putin and Lavrov were “directly responsible for Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful further invasion of Ukraine, a democratic sovereign state.”  The US Department of State designated two additional Russian officials and members of Russia’s Security Council directly responsible for the further invasion of Ukraine:  (1) Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Sergei Shoigu, and (2) Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, First Deputy Minister of Defense, and General of the Army Valery Gerasimov.  Treasury had previously designated eleven members of the Russian Security Council.  On 27 February, the US welcomed Japan’s announcement that it would stand with the EC, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Canada, and the US to isolate Russia from the international financial system and respective economies.

Also on Friday, the leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force[1] (JEF) issued a statement of solidarity with Ukraine and condemned Russia’s actions.  The JEF called on Russia to withdraw its forces to positions outside of the sovereign and internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, adding Russia’s actions are a “serious violation of international law, a grave breach of the United Nations Charter as well as core commitments Russia entered in the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris and the Budapest Memorandum.”

Karim A.A. Khan, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), released a statement on the situation in Ukraine on Friday, acknowledging the ICC’s jurisdiction over possible war crimes.  He stated the ICC has jurisdiction over “any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014.”  Ukraine’s Parliament granted the ICC jurisdiction over such matters in 2015 when it passed a declaration addressing “crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by senior officials of the Russian Federation.”   The Chief Prosecutor further noted that since neither Ukraine nor the Russian Federation are State Parties to the Rome Statute, the amendments to the Rome Statute with respect to the crime of aggression, which came into force in 2018, do not apply.  He intends to issue a more detailed statement regarding the Situation in Ukraine, providing clarity on his initial assessment, and next steps envisaged, upon his return from a trip to Bangladesh.

On 26 February, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Canada, and the US jointly announced some additional steps against Russia:

  • Removing selected Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system, harming their ability to operate globally;
  • Imposing restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank to prevent it from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of collective sanctions;
  • Coordinating efforts to take measures to impose restrictions on “people and entities who facilitate the war in Ukraine and the harmful activities of the Russian government,” such as limiting “the sale of citizenship—so called golden passports—that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems;”
  • Launching a transatlantic task force this coming week to ensure the effective implementation of coordinated financial sanctions by identifying and freezing the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies that exist within respective jurisdictions, which includes:
    1. Committing to employing sanctions and other financial and enforcement measures on additional Russian officials and elites close to the Russian government, as well as their families, and their enablers to identify and freeze the assets they hold in respective jurisdictions;
    2. Engaging other governments to detect and disrupt the movement of ill-gotten gains and deny these individuals the ability to hide their assets in jurisdictions across the world; and
  • Increasing coordination against disinformation and other forms of hybrid warfare.

On 26 February, the US authorized a third Presidential Drawdown of up to $350 million for immediate support to Ukraine’s defense.  In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted this would provide “lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing.”  Collectively, this brings the total security assistance the United States has committed to Ukraine over the past year to more than $1 billion.  The next day, the US announced the provision of nearly $54 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by Russia’s further invasion.

In a recorded message circulated on Sunday, 27 February, hailing “the fierce bravery and patriotism” of Ukraine’s Government and people over the weekend, UK Prime Minister Johnson urged Russians to oppose the invasion, which he called “a tragedy for Russia” and Ukraine.  Speaking in Russian, he said,

I do not believe this war is in your name.”

EC President von der Leyen stated on Sunday:

[F]or the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack.”  She added, “[W]e are shutting down the EU airspace for Russians.  We are proposing a prohibition on all Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft.  These aircraft will no more be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the EU.”

According to President von der Leyen, the EU is also banning the state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, saying these media entities would no longer be able “to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union.”

In a major policy reversal, the German Government announced on Saturday that it would provide Ukraine with anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles – abandoning its long-held refusal to export weapons to conflict zones.  German Chancellor Scholz said in a speech to the Bundestag (Germany’s Federal Parliament) on Sunday that the Government would commit 100 billion euros (US$113 billion) to a special armed forces fund – one-time funding for 2022.  He also said the country would keep its defense spending above two percent of GDP annually, a move that aligns with NATO defense expenditure obligations and is spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Apart from a focus on sanctions, the EU also activated its Cyber Rapid Response Team.  This EU team of cybersecurity experts is appointed in the context of the EU’s Defence Cooperation program and led by the European Defence Agency; it will assist Ukraine with fighting Russian-directed cyberattacks.

On 27 February, the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted a resolution that would convene an emergency special session of the General Assembly on 28 February to discuss Ukraine.  British Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward said of the action:

Russia again was isolated in opposing this resolution.  But Russia cannot stop the world from coming together to condemn its invasion of Ukraine.  As each day passes in this unprovoked and unjustified war, support for the Ukrainian people and their fight for freedom grows.  We urge all Members of the United Nations to use their voice tomorrow to call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine and an end to this war.”

Meanwhile, Russian President Putin announced on Sunday that Russia’s nuclear forces have been put on a heightened level of alertness.  With sanctions increasing against Russia, it remains to be seen if the Kremlin will retaliate.  Some have expressed concerns that a Russian cyberattack against a NATO member could be grounds for invoking Article 5, which could expand Russia’s war beyond Ukraine.

Notable US Developments

The US Congress was in recess this week, and lawmakers return to Washington on Monday, 28 February.  On 24 February, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ranking Member James Risch (R-Idaho) spotlighted a bill he had helped introduced ahead of the congressional recess – the Never Yielding Europe’s Territory (NYET) Act – saying it “spells out exactly what should happen today, tomorrow, and what should have happened well before now to stop Putin from doing exactly what he has done.”  He stated his intention to push to have the Senate act on the NYET Act.

Apart from sanctions, the NYET Act would provide $500 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Ukraine, including $250 million in emergency funding, with $100 million for emergency lethal assistance for critical capabilities like air defense, anti-armor, and anti-ship capabilities.  It would also create a new Ukraine Resistance Fund to help Ukraine resist attempts to occupy or subjugate any new territory Russia seizes.  On 26 February, SFRC Ranking Member Risch and Senator Rick Scott (R-Florida) wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York) calling on him to prioritize immediate consideration of legislation, like their NYET Act, to provide urgently needed support for Ukraine instead of another bill slated to be on the Senate floor this coming week.

In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, House Ways & Means (W&M) Trade Subcommittee Chair Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and committee member Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said they would soon introduce a bill – the No Most Favored Nation Trading with Russia Act – to end permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) with Russia and initiate a process to deny Moscow access to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  On 24 February, House W&M Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) issued a statement of solidarity with Ukraine, adding:

No tool in the Ways and Means Committee’s jurisdiction is off the table as we explore our options to further confront Russia’s aggression.”

This week in Washington, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with French and German officials, affirming bilateral relationships and the broader US-EU relationship.  On 21 February, Ambassador Tai met separately with French Minister of Economy, Finance and Recovery Bruno Le Maire and French Minister-Delegate for Foreign Trade Franck Riester.  On 22 February, she met with Secretary General of the Office of the President of the French Republic Alexis Kohler.

On 23 February, Ambassador Tai held separate meetings with Germany’s State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office Susanne Baumann; State Secretary for Financial Market Policy and European Policy Dr. Jörg Kukies; and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Dr. Robert Habeck.  She also participated in a meeting with leadership of the Transatlantic Business Initiative (TBI), hosted by the Federation of German Industries.  This coming Tuesday, 1 March, Ambassador Tai is set to meet again with German Federal Minister Habeck.

On February 22, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) filed comments with the Canadian Government raising serious concerns about Canada’s plan to enact a Digital Services Tax (DST).  USTR urged Canada to abandon any plans for a unilateral measure and instead redouble its commitment to the rapid implementation of Pillar One of the October 8 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)/Group of 20 (G-20) agreement and the negotiation of a multilateral convention.

Notable UK Developments

On 23 February, British Prime Minister Johnson attended a roundtable at Downing Street to discuss limiting Russian access to UK financial services.  A 10 Downing Street summary reflected,

The group also discussed the importance of an aligned approach with other financial centres, the upcoming legislative reforms to further crackdown on illicit finance.”

On 21 February, Prime Minister Johnson met with US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and a congressional delegation of Democratic lawmakers[2] in London.  A 10 Downing Street readout reflected the bulk of the conversation was related to Ukraine and Russia.  A summary from Speaker Pelosi’s office noted the American lawmakers also met with British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, where they discussed the importance of the NATO alliance and transatlantic partnership and underscored the importance of the Northern Ireland Protocol, as well as protecting the Good Friday Accords.

On 24 February, British International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan visited Tokyo on Thursday, 24 February, to engage in high-level meetings that further the UK-Japan bilateral relationship.  Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Secretary Trevelyan also discussed Russia’s assault on Ukraine.  The Secretary’s visit to the Indo-Pacific region also comes less than a week after the announcement (18 February) of the launch of the United Kingdom’s Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) market access negotiations.

On 25 February, Secretary Trevelyan signed the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) alongside Singapore’s Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran, on the final day of her Asia-Pacific tour that included stops in Indonesia and Japan.  The digital trade agreement links two of the world’s hi-tech and services hubs and seeks to capitalise on the UK’s strength as the world’s second-largest services exporter.

In Jakarta on 23 February, Secretary Trevelyan co-hosted the first-ever Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) with Indonesia.  She also met with Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Dato Lim Jock Hoi for the first meeting since the UK became the bloc’s 11th Dialogue Partner.

Notable EU Developments

With respect to international meetings, the next EU-US Trade and Technology Council has been confirmed for 15-16 May 2022, while the next WTO Ministerial Meeting is set to be held the week of 13 June 2022.

On 23 February the European Commission published its long anticipated proposal for a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence, laying out rules to ‘foster sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour throughout global value chains’.  The rules – applicable to both EU and non-EU companies (threshold of 500+ employees and €150 million in net turnover worldwide) – would establish due diligence duties for companies to address human rights and environmental impacts in the company’s operations, their subsidiaries, and their value chains (both direct and indirect business relationships).  Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are not included in the scope of the proposal.  In addition to the due diligence requirements for companies, the proposed rules introduce directors’ duties to oversee the implementation of the due diligence requirements that would integrate them into the corporate strategy.

A day after the publication of the far reaching rules, the Council adopted its negotiating position on the corporate sustainability reporting directive, which complements the EU’s sustainable finance strategy.  Upon adoption of final directive, the rules would define the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting requirements for large companies.  Once the European Parliament endorses its negotiating stance – expected this spring – the inter-institutional negotiations can commence toward reaching a common position on the proposed EU law.

This week, the European Commission published its second stage of in-depth review, a report prepared to identify the risks and opportunities in connection to the EU strategic dependencies and capacities. The report identified strategic dependencies on rare earths, magnesium and PV panels and other dependencies on a number of chemicals, while weaknesses regarding key technologies such as cybersecurity and IT software have also been noted.

The European Commission published on 23 February a proposal for Regulation on the EU Data Act, aiming to foster the industrial data sharing across industry sectors. The proposed rules, which have been submitted to the co-legislators for review, introduce measures to remove barriers to access data for both the private and public sectors. It also includes provisions that will facilitate switching between different cloud data-processing service providers.

The Council called on third countries this week to accelerate the implementation of the Glasgow COP26 outcomes and welcomed in its conclusions ‘the increased focus by the UN on the climate, peace and security nexus, but also reiterates the need for human rights to be integrated systematically into climate action and energy diplomacy.’ This week, the Council also called for greater emphasis on sustainability considerations in food safety standards in international trade.

UK-EU Trade Deal Update

Despite hopes of a possible agreement in sight on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, this week’s EU-UK meeting concluded without a breakthrough.  A joint statement by European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss underlined the “ongoing determination of both parties to ensure that the outstanding issues in the context of the Protocol are addressed.”  The European Commission published a number of fact sheets on the Protocol’s implementation pertaining to customs, sanitary and phytosanitary rules, stakeholder engagement and the supply of medicines.

COVID-19 Updates

On 21 February, the British Government published its plan for living with COVID-19, which includes the removal of legal requirements to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19.  Further, individuals will no longer have to take daily tests or be legally required to self-isolate following contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Council decided on 22 February to update its recommendation for non-essential travel into the EU, allowing all vaccinated persons with an EU- or WHO-approved vaccine or COVID-19 recovered persons to enter the EU.  Certain reciprocity criteria will continue to apply on a case-by-case basis.  The new measures will take effect from 1 March 2022, and the recommendation will be reviewed again by the end of April 2022, to consider removing the list of restricted countries.

Forty-nine U.S. states – exception Hawaii – have announced plans to drop their indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declined across the country.  Hawaii still requires travelers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to avoid a mandatory quarantine.

Meanwhile, a group of American truck drivers – the “People’s Convoy,” which is protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, fuel prices, and immigration – began a cross-country protest on 23 February, beginning in California (Los Angeles area) and ending in Washington, D.C.  US Capitol Police and the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency requested and were granted National Guard support ahead of the anticipated arrival of the convoy.

[1] The Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is a UK-led expeditionary force, with Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway participating.

[2] Speaker Pelosi led a delegation to the UK that included House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California), Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), Representative Sean Maloney (D-New York), Representative Bill Keating (D-Massachusetts), Representative Eric Swalwell (D-California), Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) and Representative Andy Kim (D-New Jersey).