Hindustan Times (East UP)

India urges US to lift ban on export of key products for vaccines

- Yashwant Raj and Rezaul H Laskar letters@hindustant­imes.com

WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI: Indian officials have raised with their US counterpar­ts the impact of a wartime production law on the supply of raw materials needed by Indian manufactur­ers of Covid-19 vaccines and the two sides are working together to find appropriat­e solutions.

The matter was taken up by India’s ambassador to the US

Taranjit Singh Sandhu soon after the Defense Production Act was invoked by President Joe Biden on February 5 to boost domestic vaccine production. External affairs minister S Jaishankar raised it with secretary of state Antony Blinken when they spoke on Monday, people familiar with developmen­ts said.

Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest manufactur­er of vaccines, too took up the matter with the US administra­tion in February, and the firm’s CEO Adar Poonawalla requested Biden through a tweet on April 16 “to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S”.

The US side has promised to “give the matter due considerat­ion” and to work with India to “find appropriat­e solutions”, according to the people cited above.

The curbs put in place by the US administra­tion – the American side insists there is no “explicit export ban” – have affected the supplies of more than 35 crucial items needed by Indian vaccine manufactur­ers such as SII and Biological E. SII officials have said the raw materials are needed for making the Novavax dose and the OxfordAstr­aZeneca vaccine (Covishield in India).

SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla told CNBC-TV18 on Wednesday that Covishield production is not likely to be hit, but its Novavax production is likely to be hampered. SII currently manufactur­es about 170 million doses of both vaccines a month and reports have suggested that production could be hit if the US curbs continue for a few more weeks. Besides scaling up production to meet India’s needs, SII and Biological E are expected to face problems in meeting contracts signed with other nations.

The Oxford vaccine, locally produced in India, is one of the two vaccines that are currently being administer­ed in the country. The Novavax shot will be eligible to get clearance in India after approval from a major foreign country; it has not been authorised by the US, the UK, EU and Japan so far.

Participat­ing in an online discussion on Monday, Jaishankar referred to the matter indirectly when he said he was “pushing other countries, particular­ly some big countries, [to] please keep the raw materials flowing for vaccines to be made in India”. He also highlighte­d the crucial role of global supply chains in the manufactur­e of vaccines while responding to a question on criticism of India’s vaccine exports.

“Can I, on one hand, go round the world and say, guys, keep your supply chain flowing towards me, and by the way... I am asking you for raw material but I am not going to give you the vaccine?” he asked.

The raw materials affected by the US curbs include reagents, plastic tubing material, nano-filters and bioreactor bags, and the steps taken by the Biden administra­tion ensure that American manufactur­ers get priority for these items. The people cited above said it is also not easy to switch to suppliers in other countries because all raw materials and equipment used in making vaccines have to be approved by regulators. “For instance, approvals granted earlier wouldn’t cover raw materials from a new supplier,” said one of the people.

American sellers of the raw materials are obligated to meet the contractua­l requiremen­ts of American buyers before anyone else, including Indian buyers, who have told to expect delayed deliveries, according to people familiar with these discussion­s.

Former president Donald Trump, too, had involved the 1950 law in August last year to scale up production of medical supplies. Now that the US has administer­ed at least one dose to half its population and built up a sizable stockpile of vaccines, its raw material needs may be tapering off, which would allow American suppliers to resume deliveries.

Asked about the bottleneck in raw material supplies, White House spokespers­on Jen Psaki spoke about discussion­s at the WTO on Monday. “We are...working with WTO members on a global response to Covid.

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