US announcement to discuss IPR relaxation came as Modi regime, a QUAD ally, was gasping for political breath after election setbacks, and an oxygen crisis in India.
In a sudden change of heart, US announced, towards the end of April 2021, that it may relent on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) restrictions and may lift the ban on export of raw materials for India’s Covid vaccine… This was an overnight turnaround. Just one day before, the state department spokesmen had stonewalled, maintaining with a straight face that America’s needs took priority. And that was despite repeated pleas by India, for over six months, its prized ‘democratic’ and QUAD ally.
It was widely welcomed coming as it did amid a massive rise in new covid cases and deaths , particularly India. What is behind this change of heart? When would materialize on the ground? And would it help counter at least the third wave of Covid-19? What are the political and economic factors that led to this move? These are questions that need to be probed.
In this Part-1 of a two part article, we shall examine certain political factors. Part-2 would go into the other aspects.
“We appreciate the US administration’s announcement today of its support for waiver of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for COVID-19 vaccines”, India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu told PTI on May 5, said a report from Washington. For the past several weeks, Sandhu, along with the diplomats from South Africa, had been meeting US lawmakers and officials regarding the proposal.
“We also thank the large number of US Senators and Congresspersons who expressed their support. We will continue to work with all stakeholders in the US to collectively fight the global pandemic including through equitable distribution of affordable vaccines for global public health at this critical juncture,” Sandhu said.
Biden had his own domestic political compulsions:
Over 100 US lawmakers have written to President Joe Biden urging him to support India’s proposal to the WTO to temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture Covid-19 diagnostics and vaccines.(Press Trust of India, Washington, May 2, 2021). They explained its global need:
“Lawmakers said that the globalised economy cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated….
“ Your administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage. To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing US support for the WTO TRIPS waiver,” the Senators wrote.
In their letter, the 108 US Congressmen argued that the TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers…
Twelve Republican lawmakers, backing some pharma majors, have urged the Biden administration to not support a 2020 October proposal by India and South Africa to the WTO to temporarily waive some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules amid the coronavirus pandemic. They claimed that PM Modi pressed Joe Biden to support the waiver during a phone call in early May. (PTI Washington May 5, 2021). Modi needed a breather , and Biden obliged his QUAD ally, changing his opposition the previous day.
From October 2020, it took several months for the present developments. Biden the new ruler proved no different from Trump for all these months.
Even in the last week of April, 2021, US bluntly refused to oblige India and the global pleas to relax restrictions, including those under Defense Act of Second world war period.
The timing was notable. What changed between April 23 and May 5?
The Global context : US the shylock got exposed by China moves
India on Apr 23 Friday had added a record over 3.32 lakh new coronavirus cases in a single day taking the country”s tally to 1,62,63,695. It was at that juncture, after weeks of diplomatic pleas by India, PTI reported from “US defends restrictions on export of COVID-19 vaccine raw materials amid India’s request to lift ban.”…a senior State Department official bluntly said the first obligation of US is to take care of the requirements of the American people.
It was at a such a juncture that China made moves and India responded, as can be seen in a commentary by globaltimes.cn:
“ After the outbreak of India’s second wave of epidemic, China provided India with a lot of crucial anti-epidemic supplies, and Jaishankar also recognized the positive results of China’s help. For example, in a phone conversation on April 30 with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Jaishankar thanked China for its goodwill and solidarity, as well as its support to India in purchasing anti-epidemic materials. He also said that India is willing to further strengthen anti-pandemic cooperation with China. This is a much more positive response from the Indian government compared with the country’s previous attitude to China’s support. This can be seen as an important step forward.
“ Some Indian people should not misunderstand China’s goodwill. In the era of a global community with a shared future for mankind, China has provided necessary support to India from a moral point of view. We were not expecting India to make the so-called geopolitical concessions, which would be too narrow-minded. Instead, we hope there will be more insightful and rational people in India who can understand and appreciate China’s goodwill, instead of judging China’s support with unbalanced geopolitical biases. In fact, politics is one of the most important reasons why India’s COVID-19 epidemic has continued to spread.
The right and wrong on China-India border area have already been very clear. However, India has always seemed unable to meet China halfway and it has been passing the buck to China. Because of the prolonged border standoff, there is still a very strong anti-China atmosphere in India. But due to realistic reasons, the Indian government is also looking for opportunities to ease relations with China. Moreover, China-India cooperation in the COVID-19 fight can increase rationality among Indian people.
(globaltimes.cn, May 06, 2021: https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202105/1222812.shtml) .
China meanwhile hogged headlines, outside India, supplying or planning to supply vaccine to almost 100 developing countries, some as donation, some on subsidy and as credit. It had even set up facilities abroad for mass production of vaccines. This exposed and isolated the US and its allies, including India, in the global arena.
People’s Republic of China was a contrast to the US, a Shylock, for the whole world to see. The letter (PTI May 2) by 100 plus US law makers (“ restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage”) may be understood in this context.
Then came this news: Kamala Harris , Vice President of USA, in a Indian diaspora event said: “ We do this as friends of India, as members of the Asian QUAD, and as part of the global community,” Times of India ( May 8) correspondent from Washington reported.
Why bring in QUAD while dealing with a global pandemic? To counter China!
US an ally that blocked exports of vaccines and other covid-related materials is lauded in India, while china’s substantial help, despite strained relations, is almost ignored by the media. See last part of the article how brazenly this is played out in India.
The national political context also can be seen: Election results, Oxygen shortages etc
Election results, particularly in Bengal, were a severe setback to BJP. Mamata would be sent back home the BJP top brass had bragged. But the double engine of Modi-Shah got derailed, as clear by May 3.
Oxygen shortages in prestigious corporate hospitals, including those in Delhi, made Modi regime gasping for political breath – they can not blame Kejriwal now! Modi regime had only recently made a law to assert that Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor would be the dejure leader, not the elected Chief Minister Kejriwal. That turned out to be a curse, a Bhasmasura hasta.
Prime Minister Modi had to convene face-saving, high-profile emergency meetings, including with corporate Heads who needed to be prodded to supply oxygen!
As Covid mortalities data was threatening, and was linked to their reckless electioneering as well as Kumbh Mela, their fake commitment to the “nation” was exposed as never before.
The Hindutva gang’s hypocrisy of blaming Tablighi Jamaat that had a few hundred participants in phase-1, was widely contrasted with Kumbh Mela that involved more than 8 million participants. Scores of sants died of Covid, and Modi had to advise closing the grand show ahead of schedule.
Elections and the Kumbh mela, both the BJP regime had promoted against all sane advice. They had manipulated the EC to refuse to combine last three phases into one, as requested by Mamata-led TMC, and there was wide-spread condemnation of the duo.
It is not migrant labor trekking long distances as in phase-1. Now phase-2 led to scores of deaths of the elite, and a series of admonitions by courts. Courts, which only recently looked pliable, were now pulling up the government, and issuing directives.
Thus the rulers in India as also Biden-led USA badly needed a breather. Then came the news from US, elbowing out election analyses, inimical to BJP, from the headlines. US announced and India welcomed!
Another jumla by Modi-Shah regime, aided now by Biden’s USA
Indian media highlighted the news from US as a boon, a savior, even as India’s Principal Scientific Advisor K. Vijaya Raghavan said the same day, May 5, the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is inevitable, though its time scale is unpredictable.
A few years ago, BJP top brass, Amit Shah answering questions on tall, unkept poll promises had unabashedly said : It is a jumla, a ploy, taking the people for a ride.
They did the same in Bengal. On April 19, when Bengal still had three more phases of polling ahead, involving 114 seats, Modi announced, with an eye on Bengal and its youth, vaccination would be open to youth above age 18, wef May1. That was at a time when it did not reach even those above 60, not to speak of those above 45. And 90 percent of the 60 plus seniors needed to be given a second dose…that remains an unfinished task even today, on May 10. BJP dreamt it would benefit by youth vote. Despite this vax jumla, the Modi-Shah duo, which addressed around 60 rallies between them in Bengal alone, lost the game there, apart from setbacks in Tamilnadu and Kerala. In the latter, they had announced a CM candidate in 88-year-old Metro Sridharan, but lost the lone seat they had!
The writing is on the wall: It is the beginning of the end of Modi era, speculations by analysts began. The prolonged farmers’agitation had showed jumlas do not work always.
Thus the IPR waiver talks was yet another jumla to over –shadow the election analyses, and the rising mortalities of Covid-19. But jumlas do not work in international arena, more so on IPRs.
“We are hopeful…the waiver is an important step…” said India in a statement. It was not exactly a waiver, as popularly highlighted. It was support by US for moves to ease IPR. Reported Times of India (May 7): “ significantly, the dilution of US’ traditional resistance , following intense pressure, was limited to talks on vaccines.”
“The (Biden) administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said, but supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.” The small print was significant:
Katherine Tai actually said on May 5 that she will pursue “text-based negotiations” on the WTO waiver, the standard but tedious process for trade deal talks. Negotiators trade texts with their preferred wording, then try to find common ground, sometimes leaving blank spaces for thorny differences to be settled by politicians. It may take an year or two, said experts.
Modi is fond of quoting from ancient texts, so be it. Indian philosopher Shankara is famously quoted: Gajam midhya, palaayanam midhya. The elephant is an illusion, and its being driven is an illusion too. Such are claims about Covid-19 and the US’ dubious promise.
False hopes are sought to be created among the gullible, by the Modi regime, aided by the Biden admin’s patent waiver, nay US preparedness for talks on the same.
The fate of the waiver proposal is as unpredictable as the covid-19. You can not fool the people with Amazing India’s successes, or the candles, or India as the global pharmacy.
“Ten meetings in seven months have failed to move WTO members”: A Long Road Ahead
Indian Big media, more so electronic media in Hindi and some Indian languages, is servile enough. But the media of the imperialist masters cannot be manipulated by compradors. The tail cannot wag the dog.
All 164 WTO member countries must reach consent on such decisions, with any one member able to veto them, so there could be a lot of red pencils out. “Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” Tai said in a statement that tamped down expectations for a quick deal.
US companies, which strive to influence the USTR’s trade negotiations, are already mobilizing to try to ensure the WTO talks lead to a waiver that’s as narrowly targeted as possible.
The following report next day, May 6, by Reuters, citing the initiation of the move last October, was more objective:
- Ten meetings in seven months have failed to move WTO members toward consensus on the original waiver proposal
- The initial IP waiver proposal by India and South Africa last October included vaccines, treatments, diagnostic kits, ventilators and protective gear
- Now that US President Joe Biden has backed a proposed waiver for Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property rights, the next stop is for the World Trade Organization to hammer out a deal – a process that could take months.
- Not only are the negotiations expected to be lengthy, they are also likely to result in a waiver that is significantly narrower in scope and shorter in duration than the one initially proposed by India and South Africa, trade experts said.
- “Right now, there is no proposal on the table that would waive the TRIPS agreement simply for vaccines,” he said, referring to the WTO’s agreement on ‘Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights’ that governs the transfer of property like movie rights or vaccine-manufacturing specifics.
- A more realistic goal may be completion of the agreement in time for the WTO’s next ministerial conference, scheduled for Nov. 30 through 3, said Willems, now a trade partner at the Akin Gump law firm in Washington. That would give vaccine producers more time to boost global supplies which could help contain the virus and ease pressure for the waiver.
- The initial IP waiver proposal by India and South Africa last October included vaccines, treatments, diagnostic kits, ventilators, protective gear and other products related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fortunately online editions carried the details:
As if it was not enough, news came from the masters of EU who agreed, but only to discuss, IPR relaxation.
“It is a false debate…”
Though Indian media initially highlighted “After US nod, EU too willing to discuss waiver of IPR on vax” (Times of India headline on May 7), it was unraveled soon after. Even a discussion was unpalatable to many in EU, itself being dictated by the hegemonic USA.
French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that giving any priority now to a discussion of intellectual property rights “is a false debate.” “First US must stop ban on exports of vaccines and components of vaccines.”
“Today, there is not a factory in the world that cannot produce doses for poor countries because of a patent issue,” Macron said, reported AP, May 8 Saturday, from PORTO, Portugal where a EU summit was going on.
“I’m very clearly urging the U.S. to put an end to the ban on exports of vaccines and on components of vaccines that are preventing them being produced,” Macron said.
European Union leaders cranked up their criticism of the U.S. call to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents, arguing the move would yield no short-term or intermediate improvement in vaccine supplies and could even have a negative impact. Macron’s was not a lone voice:
“We don’t think, in the short term, that it’s the magic bullet,” European Council President Charles Michel said. He mentioned the German company CureVac, saying it could not produce a vaccine in Europe because the necessary components were blocked in the United States. Hundreds of components can go into a vaccine.
Germanys Merkel said she hoped that “now that large parts of the American population have been vaccinated, there will be a free exchange of (vaccine) ingredients.”
While the U.S. has kept a tight lid on exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, the EU has become the world’s leading provider, allowing about as many doses to go outside the 27-nation bloc as are kept for its 446 million inhabitants. The EU has distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc while about the same amount has been exported abroad to almost 90 countries. Former EU member Britain has acted similarly to the U.S.
Macron and other EU leaders have insisted that production capacity first must be ramped up by reconverting factories so they can quickly start producing vaccines through a transfer of technology.
US Global hegemony : “Tradeoff for US vaccine unthinkable”
The US move has political, strategic as well as business goals, national and international, more than global empathy in tackling covid-19 on a war footing.
“Tradeoff for US vaccine unthinkable” : That is the title of an article, April 25, by former ambassador MK Bhadra kumar, an expert on the subject of global-regional geo-politics. He wrote :
“In a sudden change of heart, US President Biden may relent to lift the ban on export of raw materials for India’s Covid vaccine… This is an overnight turnaround. Just the day before, the state department spokesmen had stonewalled, maintaining with a straight face that America’s needs took priority…”
“ What prompted this turnaround is unclear. One reason could be the Chinese offer to help India, which Delhi promptly began considering…” (In fact India received huge imports of covid materials from china in April, as mentioned elsewhere.)
The other was the Afghan link, he discussed with evidence of unfolding developments.
“However, the bottomline is that Washington almost always expects a quid pro quo in its transactional relationships. Conceivably, Afghanistan could be the quid pro quo, since vital US interests are at stake, including the prestige of the Biden presidency…”
“ US is seeking more opportunities for “expeditionary basing” in the region... US might not seek permanent bases due to Iran’s proximity…On April 19, Blinken himself had a call with EAM S. Jaishankar when they reaffirmed “the importance of the US-India relationship and cooperation on regional security issues” and “agreed to close and frequent coordination in support of a lasting peace and development for the people of Afghanistan…”
“Thus, India would probably be the only remaining regional state in Washington’s consideration zone today as a potential collaborator. No doubt, the US is in desperate hurry as the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has commenced.
“The big question is whether the US is relenting on the vaccine front with a view to cut a deal with India on Afghanistan…”
Endowed with a good hind-sight as well as foresight, he concluded with this caution:
“However, Afghanistan is a ‘graveyard of empires.’ The calculus of fratricidal wars keeps changing and India is best advised to steer clear of the Afghan civil war. Predicating any policy on the US’ consistency is risky too.”
See for more on this: https://countercurrents.org/2021/04/tradeoff-for-us-vaccine-unthinkable/
Just as renowned diplomat Bhadra Kumar is ignored , except by the likes of countercurrents, the Big media ignored significant moves and sizeable help by China as can be seen in the next section.
Anti-China lobbies’ dirty job : China’s gesture ignored by the media, which however promoted false campaign against China
On April 29 Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised to do the utmost in supporting India’s fight against the COVID-19 surge and said that anti-pandemic materials produced in China were entering India at a faster pace. In his letter to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Wang said that the Chinese side “shares empathy for the challenges facing India and expresses sincere sympathy”.
“The coronavirus is the common enemy of mankind, and the international community needs solidarity and coordination for a concerted response. The Chinese side firmly supports the Indian Government and people in fighting the pandemic,” he wrote in the letter. (PTI)
Wang said that anti pandemic materials produced in China are entering India at a faster pace to help India fight the epidemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 30 wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and expressed readiness to strengthen cooperation with India to fight the pandemic and provide support and help to deal with the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Normally, this one from a major Head of state to the PM should get into headlines, but was largely ignored by the media, though PTI dutifully reported it.
Xi sent a message of sympathy to Modi over the COVID-19 pandemic in India:
“I am very concerned about the recent situation of COVID-19 pandemic in India. On behalf of the Chinese Government and people, as well as in my own name, I would like to express sincere sympathies to the Indian Government and people..The Chinese side stands ready to strengthen cooperation with the Indian side in fighting the pandemic and provide support and help in this regard. I believe that under the leadership of the Indian Government, the Indian people will surely prevail over the pandemic…” Xi said.
“Humanity is a community with a shared future. Only through solidarity and cooperation can countries around the world ultimately defeat the pandemic,” the Chinese president said. (PTI)
The correspondence was in spite of and amidst tensions along the disputed border between India and China. The media continued to play up the border dispute. Then the anti-Cjhina lobbies roped into service an actor to do their dirty job.
Bollywood Actor Sonu Sood’s tweet, widely circulated in social media, falsely alleged that China has blocked anti-epidemic supplies to India. The Popular actor is being used by anti-China lobbies at a time people saw how US blocked many vaccine inputs; after a furore, Biden relaxed some restrictions. It goes against facts, as clarified on May 2 by china’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong, with video and other evidence.
It may be recalled that Sonu Sood, promoted in a big way by the Big media, as a messiah of Covid times, was openly blamed at one point by Shiv sena (as reported by PTI 2020 june7) in its mouthpiece Samna, as one “propped up by BJP” to undermine its opponents. Now he is drawn into launching an anti-China venom, highlighted by the media.
China had to clarify matters about China’s recent medical help to India. On May 2 by China’s Ambassador to India Sun Weidong, issued a statement with video and other evidence. The media almost ignored it, just like the above moves by China.
China’s medical help to India, almost suppressed by India media, combined with disinformation that China blocked supplies to India, was revealed by China’s Ambassador Sun Weidong :
Since this April when India’s epidemic has deteriorated seriously, China has supplied more than 5,000 ventilators, 21,569 oxygen generators, over 21.48 million masks and around 3,800 tons of medicines to India, according to statistics of the General Administration of Customs of China.
Media reported that some logistics companies and medical product manufacturers in China volunteered to work overtime during China’s May Day holidays because of a surge in orders from India and “customers waiting for them to save their lives.”
“In the past two weeks, 61 cargo flights have been in operation from China to India, transporting various urgently needed medical supplies for India. The latest cargo flight carrying oxygen generators & other equipment took off from Tianjin, China to India at 11:15am today (May 2) ,” read one of Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong posts on May 1, attaching in-scene videos messaging goods being transported.
Chinese medical suppliers are working overtime on orders from India, at least 25000 orders for oxygen concentrators, in recent days.
Cargo planes are under plan for medical supplies. Chinese customs will facilitate relevant process, Sun updated in his successive tweets on the issue.
He also posted an email address in the post, saying “please let us know any problem you met so that we could try our best to help accordingly.”
Contrast the above details of China’s help with that given by any other country to India, latest by Israel. One can find how pro-US lobbies are dictating the narrative in Big media. Even among social media outlets, few if any are giving a fair coverage. Countercurrents has been among the few that are giving space to objective, factual information.
India by glorifying the US move (to discuss) on IPR, subserves imperialism and US hegemony, which has invoked the Defense Production Act (of second world war period) to ban exports of Covid-related materials, in relation to a pandemic, at a time millions across the globe, and in India, are dying!
India had “decided to invoke the British era Epidemic Disease Act of 1897,” (Sec 2) said a statement issued by the Centre, last year, March 11, 2020. That was in a meeting, presided by the Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, with many including those from the Army, and ITBP. “The ordinary provisions of the law presently in force are insufficient ..” , it was felt, the statement said. (CNN-News 18, March 11, 2020). The colonial era Act had many punitive measures, and protects the officials, said the report. It was invoked to tackle plague, and defiant media and Tilak, the earliest editor booked under Sedition Act, externed and jailed. Health is a state subject, under the Constitution, but this Act makes Centre’s directives enforceable across the country, explained the officials.
Despite such draconian laws and measures, and assurances that India was unique in containing the pandemic, and claims that it is a global pharmacy hub, India entered a deadly phase. Its Principal Scientific Advisor, K. Vijay Raghavan, said a third wave is inevitable, even as the public health system tottered under pressures. Its much touted corporate hospitals also proved inadequate unable to provide even Oxygen, which they could have produced in-house, even in the second year of the pandemic.
Thus Modi-led India was found gasping for political breath, even as it silenced the media on the prolonged Farmers’ struggle.
The pandemic brought out the hypocrisy of the imperialists who swore by WTO, and Liberalization, and its TINA arguments, upheld by the comprador rulers of India.
By banning exports, waging trade wars, indulging in protectionism, imposing sanctions – hurting not only China, Iran, Cuba and others, but India itself – the US is found violating the letter and spirit of WTO rules imposed on the world by imperialists led by itself.
Comprador India, now in the mantle of Swadeshi, subordinates itself to imperialism and US hegemony exposing all its claims of protecting national interests.
The behavior of the master and the subordinates in relation to covid-19, and the IPR in relation to vaccine etc exposed both.
Given the international nature of S&T and R&D with world-wide, multiple linkages in a globalized era of almost four decades, the US or the West indeed have no moral right whatsoever to claim any IPR so to say. Cross-country collaborative research into mRNA and its medical applications , for instance, has been underway for decades.
By banning exports, waging trade wars, indulging in protectionism, imposing sanctions – hurting not only China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba and others, but India itself – the US is violating the letter and spirit of WTO rules imposed on the world by imperialists led by itself.
Comprador India, now in the mantle of Swadeshi, subordinates itself to imperialism and US hegemony exposing all its claims of protecting national interests, and hails such a super power, the USA!
But beyond the hegemonic strategy, there are economic and business reasons too as can be seen in Part-2 of this article: ‘Socialise The Risk, Privatise The Profit’
See a related earlier article, in CC , April 24, 2021:
Ramakrishnan was a media person and frequently contributed to countercurrents.org.