Don’t let the ‘America First’ derail India-U.S. ties

Joe Biden
President Joe Bide; Photo credit: White House

America must provide vaccines to India and other countries for the survival of humanity.

By Rajesh Mehta and Uddeshya Goel

When the Oval Office welcomed President Joe Biden and Indian American Kamala Harris as the responsible bearers of a pandemic-struck universe, there was hope for a tolerant world with fewer walls and more bridges. The new administration also brought a tectonic shift in the U.S.-India partnership expectations, which has been conducive for the past 15 years in the forefronts of bilateral trades, R&D, defence, climate change and finance. However, the latest pandemic dynamics around the world have cornered the United States into a vaccine nationalism discourse.

Rajesh Mehta
Rajesh Mehta

Currently, India is in the middle of a national health emergency, with the local health system on the brink of a breakdown and the medical logistics pushed to its extreme. The country has become the terrifying new epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. New cases have topped 300,000 and are making new highs daily. The official death toll of over 2,000 a day is also certainly an underestimate. The triple variant in the Covid string prevailing in India has proved to be catastrophic for the country. India is in a dire situation and the only way around is through mass vaccination drives. The United States must come forward to provide help to its partner.

However, giving a big surprise to India, Biden has snubbed multiple pleas, even after the fact that last year, despite facing domestic criticism, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had allowed the export of 50 million units of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) drug to the United States at President Donald Trump’s request. The United States, on the other hand, has maintained restrictions on critical exports, which are essential in the manufacturing of vaccines, imposed under the Defense Production Act, to prioritize the needs of Americans.

READ: Vinod Khosla offers to help Indian hospitals with import of oxygen (April 24, 2021)

Moreover, the U.S. has also denied sharing the doses from its own supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Even though regulators have yet to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the United States, the country has accumulated a stockpile of more than 20 million doses and has a purchase agreement for 300 million more. It also has a purchase agreement for 100 million J&J doses, which U.S. officials fear some Americans will be reluctant to take because of potential side effects. This is more than two times the doses the country needs to develop herd immunity by June this year.

Uddeshya Goel
Uddeshya Goel

The decision also brings the virtual Quad meeting, held on March 12, to a complete fiasco. At the summit, Australia, India, Japan, and the United States promised collaboration on everything from Covid-19 vaccination campaigns and maritime security, to climate change and infrastructure investment. If Biden maintains his current stance, then it can prove to be detrimental to the Indo-U.S. relationship, which has been a backbone to the IT and pharmaceutical industry in the United States. When countries like China and Pakistan, which have been in a bitter relationship with India, can provide raw material and essential medical supplies, a superior partner like the United States can provide full support to its friend during such unprecedented times.

Also, it’s in the favor of the U.S. to lend a hand to India. The longer the pandemic rages in India, the greater the chances that more dangerous mutations will emerge and spread around the world. Moreover, the developing world is counting on affordable Indian vaccine-makers such as Serum Institute of India for their supplies. With India now reserving virtually all its doses for domestic use, those countries will have to wait even longer to get vaccinated. And if the pandemic disrupts production at Indian pharmaceutical companies, it could affect crucial non-Covid medications as well.

READ: Covid tsunami hits India with record 332,000 daily cases (April 23, 2021)

On Friday, Myron Brilliant, Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, strongly encouraged the Biden administration to release the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses in storage — as well as other life-saving support —  for shipment to India, Brazil, and other nations hard-hit by the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Adar Poonawala, CEO of Serum Institute, appealed to President Biden to relax the export curbs on vaccine raw materials, which has led to major bottlenecks. Without the raw materials, the Institute may not be able to deliver the 160 million vaccine doses it had planned to produce next month for India.

The world knows that the United States has been steering through a lethal pandemic itself along with civil unrest against racial prejudice, but the country is now in a recuperating phase, with cases and deaths under control and a swift vaccination drive in place. It is time for the capitalist U.S. to look for long-term opportunities in the Indo-U.S. financial, research and defense initiative, and the shot to reclaim the lost leadership position. The bilateral ties must not be compromised for short-term grains.

READ: Indian American experts tell how to cope with Covid isolation (April 23, 2021)

The United States must not let the “America First” sentiment drive a nationalist vaccine campaign. The country must provide vaccines to other countries for the survival of humanity.

(Rajesh Mehta is a leading international consultant and columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy. Uddeshya Goel is a financial researcher with sheer interest in capital markets and economic instruments.)

Read more columns by Rajesh Mehta

One Comment

  1. India -America tie sounds good but don’t get to much excited about it. Do you remember how was Pakistan-America friendship only a few years ago? If I was an Indian, I would have preferred friendship with all neighbours first, at any cost, including Pakistan and China. A country can be safe and prosper only when she has good friends around.

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