Need to Dramatically Scale Up Covid-19 Vaccine Production: S Jaishankar

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The world would not be able to deal with coronavirus pandemic without “dramatically” scaling up production of COVID-19 vaccines, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday, noting that Europe’s support is “key” for lifting patents on the vaccines and to keep open the supply chains. Speaking at a virtual interactive session along with Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva, he also said that Europe needs to keep open the supply chains to boost manufacturing of the vaccines.

In reply to a question about a proposal at the WTO by India and South Africa to temporarily waive patents on the vaccines, Silva said the European Union was of the view that innovation and research needed to be preserved and signalled the grouping’s reservations in lifting the protections. Portugal currently holds the presidency of the 27-nation European Union, considered as one of the most powerful groupings globally. “We think that temporarily waiving the intellectual property rights is a last resort kind of a solution. But we are discussing it within the European Union,” he said at the dialogue organised by the Observer Research Foundation.

Calling for addressing existing bottlenecks in vaccine production, Silva said the EU has been waiting for a move by the US on the waiver, saying the American proposal at the World Trade Organisation could be “much more concrete”. In his response, Jaishankar stressed the need to scale up vaccine production to address the current challenge facing the globe.

“This is a calamity of a kind none of us could even think about. So, I think it does meet the kind of last resort standard, and I think it is very much in that mode of thought that we have made the proposal,” Jaishankar said. He said that there was a need to significantly enhance the production of the COVID-19 vaccines. “Without dramatically raising production levels, we are not going to be able to deal with this problem, not at the current production level. We will have to see what are the preconditions to dramatically raise the production level,” he said. “Europe is absolutely key to solving this problem; not just due to intellectual property rights, but also because a lot of supply chains go through Europe,” he added.

Jaishankar said that there was no uniformity in views on the issue among all the EU member states. The TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) council of the WTO is likely to start text-based negotiations on the proposal by India and South Africa soon.

Talking about the overall India-EU ties, the external affairs minister also referred to the decision by the two sides to resume the free trade talks, describing it as a significant one. At a virtual summit last month, India and the EU decided to resume talks on a free trade pact after a gap of eight years besides vowing to work on a connectivity partnership.

“It has been a remarkable six months in our relationship with the European Union. We have crossed the threshold, we have seen more momentum and more energy. We have had a very important virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all the EU leaders and we made some very important decisions,” Jaishankar said. The Portuguese foreign minister also batted for a united agenda by the US, the UK, the European Union and India in dealing with challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. Referring to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Silva said some of the countries involved in the mega infrastructure programme are paying an increasingly higher price.

He said the BRI cannot be the only initiative available to the developing countries and that there was a need to bring out other such instruments.

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