New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s five-day visit to the US will focus on “taking forward” the agenda that was firmed up during the first Quad Summit, which took place on 12 March, even as he will seek investments in the healthcare sector, especially in the area of vaccines, ThePrint has learnt.
The minister’s visit, which begins Monday, assumes crucial significance since this is his first in-person trip to the US after the Joe Biden administration took over in January. The external affairs minister will be there from 24 May to 28 May.
President Joe Biden and his government accorded India “top priority” while holding the first-ever virtual summit of the Quad in March.
Washington has since expressed its willingness to hold an in-person summit of the Quad, which was expected to take place on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting in June in the UK.
However, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelling his trip to the G-7 due to the Covid-19 crisis in the country, Jaishankar will be following up on the “exhaustive agenda” and the strategic aspect of the grouping as well as discussing India’s larger plans for the Indo-Pacific region, sources said.
According to sources, Jaishankar during his meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other White House interlocutors will be taking up the matter on the vaccine cooperation agenda, which was one of the main outcomes of the Quad summit.
“The US is largely looking to help and address India’s concerns as a partner in terms of larger support across the board,” a top official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
According to the Quad Summit Fact Sheet, issued by the Quad countries of the US, India, Japan and Australia post the meeting, the partners will “address financing and logistical demands for production, procurement and delivery of safe and effective vaccines”.
Through the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the US had vowed to work with Biological E Ltd, a Hyderabad-based private firm, to finance increased capacity for the company’s efforts to produce at least 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
India had taken up the matter with the US in April as well, after which the Biden administration started rolling out Covid-19 emergency aid to the tune of $100 million.
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‘US helping across the board’
Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s Ambassador to the US, has held a series of meetings with all the leading vaccine manufacturers of the US — Pfizer, J&J and Moderna — to ensure these companies tie up with Indian manufacturers, allowing them to locally produce the vaccines.
According to sources, Jaishankar will now be building upon these meetings. The minister will also be meeting the supply chain and retail honchos such as those of Thermo Fisher, Amazon and Walmart among others, as they remain critical for vaccine supply.
While the US has made it clear that it may take a while for India to receive the 80 million doses promised by the Biden administration, which has also promised vaccines to other countries, it is actively looking at co-production ventures, the sources said.
According to the sources, even the US Congress and several top-level senators have come forward in support of India on the vaccines.
On 21 May, Congressman Brad Sherman said at a House of Foreign Affairs Committee meeting that the US needs “to do more” to help India tide over the crisis.
“Per my several conversations with the Indian Ambassador to the United States and so many others who are active in the Indo-American community, it is evident India needs desperate medical supplies, most notably oxygen production equipment,” he said while passing a resolution to express solidarity with India.
During his visit, Jaishankar will also raise the issue of the US’ support for waiving intellectual property rights on not just Covid vaccines but also other Covid-related health products, which has been also emphasised under a revised joint proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) by India and South Africa.
The external affairs minister will also be meeting members of the ‘Global Task Force on Pandemic Response: Mobilizing for India’ that has been set up under the aegis of the US Chamber of Commerce, and supported by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF).
Jaishankar will begin his visit to the US by first landing in New York where he will be meeting UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. India is presently one of 15 non-permanent members of the UNSC.
During his meetings in New York, Jaishankar is expected to also discuss matters related to the ongoing border standoff with China, counter-terrorism and the recent Israel-Palestine tensions, the sources said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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