New Delhi: India has “raised” severe concerns with the US as well as its other Quad partners — Australia and Japan — on the grouping’s vaccine partnership. The country is facing record Covid-19 cases amid plans to roll out a massive vaccination drive from 1 May to inoculate everyone over the age of 18.
The concerns raised are over restrictions in the export of raw materials required for making vaccines, not just with the US bilaterally but also under the Quad framework, top-level sources told ThePrint.
New Delhi is also believed to have taken up the matter of resilient and secure supply chain issues with Canberra as well as Tokyo as it faces shortage of not just vaccines but also ventilators and oxygen supplies, the sources said.
The government has directed its respective ambassadors stationed in the Quad countries to discuss the matter with the officials in those countries at the “highest level”, the sources added.
India is currently facing a severe second wave of the pandemic amid immense strain on the health infrastructure. On Thursday, the country reported a record 3.14 lakh cases and 2,104 deaths.
The Quad factsheet
During the first Quad Summit held in March, the four countries together had issued a Quad Summit Fact Sheet where the first and foremost issue highlighted was ‘The Quad Vaccine Partnership’, which was touted to become a “landmark partnership”.
“While ensuring that vaccines have been made available to our people, ‘Quad’ partners will launch a landmark partnership to further accelerate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, Quad leaders are taking shared action necessary to expand safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in 2021, and will work together to strengthen and assist countries in the Indo-Pacific with vaccination, in close coordination with the existing relevant multilateral mechanisms including WHO and COVAX,” the factsheet said.
“Drawing on each of our strengths, we will tackle this complex issue with multi-sectoral cooperation across many stages of action, starting with ensuring global availability of safe and effective vaccines,” it added.
“Quad partners are working collaboratively to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines at facilities in India, prioritizing increased capacity for vaccines authorized by Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRA),” it said.
The raw material issue
At the beginning of last month, however, Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer, Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO) over facing difficulties due to restrictions in export of raw materials for Covid vaccines from the US.
“The vaccine partnership announced at the Quad is a time-consuming process and even though leaders express certain commitment it becomes difficult to implement those quickly. This is an unprecedented time, hence, there is a certain amount of nationalist and protectionism tendencies emerging where countries are now looking at their own needs,” said Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, director, Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology, Observer Research Foundation.
“Changing the ground realities will be a challenge. It will take time,” Rajagopalan added.
According to External Affairs Ministers S. Jaishankar, the Quad is only focussed on 10 broad issues, which includes vaccine collaboration as well as resilient supply chains. At the Raisina Dialogue last week, he said India is now with like-minded countries so that they “work together”.
On Monday, Jaishankar had a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken where he reportedly raised the issue of the US restrictions on the export of raw materials for Covid vaccines.
Meanwhile, India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu is also believed to have discussed India’s unprecedented challenges when he earlier this week met the rest of the ambassadors of Quad countries to the US, along with Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, chairman of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee, and chairman of the House of Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, among others.
— Taranjit Singh Sandhu (@SandhuTaranjitS) April 21, 2021
Vaccine initiative remains important
However, with India facing an acute shortage of oxygen cylinders, ventilators, ICU beds and other critical items even as Covid cases spiral out of control, the government believes the Quad framework can activate the supply chains to obtain these items in times of emergency from other partners, sources told ThePrint.
“Coming a few weeks after the Quad leaders’ summit, and on the heels of the meeting between President (Joe) Biden and (Japan) PM (Yoshihide) Suga, the meeting that took place on the vaccine initiative means that it remains important, especially to the US,” said Aparna Pande, Director (Indian Initiative), at Washington DC-based Hudson Institute.
“However, with India’s rising cases and the Indian and South African request to waive TRIPS and also allow export of critical materials for the production of vaccines in India, what we are faced with is a situation where US foreign policy interests demand it allows exports, but its domestic policy means it continues with DPA that prevents this,” added Pande, who has also authored the book Making India Great Again: The Promise of A Reluctant Global Power.
The US had restricted export of critical raw materials that go into the making of the Covid vaccines under the Defence Production Act, 1950. It was invoked by former US president Donald Trump. Biden is continuing it.
India and South Africa are also fighting with the US and other developed countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property and patent rights from Covid vaccines.
The matter is expected to be discussed at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters Thursday.
At the Raisina Dialogue last week, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also highlighted how some countries talk about equitable access but do not practise them.
“Equitable access is critically important as we all know that no one will be safe unless everyone is safe. While we know that we don’t practice it. Quite honestly the global tendency has been to circle the wagons and say, well, I’m going to look at myself, mostly,” he said at the ORF event.
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