Sunday Tribune

Biden’s ‘decision for humankind’


IT WAS not going to be hard to look like a shining star after four years of former US president Donald Trump, but President Joe Biden has exceeded expectatio­ns in his first 100 days.

The 100th day in office was April 30, but one of Biden’s most impressive decisions was announced just five days later – one that matters to South Africa and the developing world.

On Wednesday, the Biden administra­tion announced that it was in support of waiving intellectu­al property protection­s for Covid-19 vaccines, which was a breakthrou­gh for internatio­nal efforts to suspend patent rules.

With the pandemic raging in India and Latin-america, and a third wave expected in our own country, the decision has the potential to be lifesaving for many. South Africa and India have been pushing for a temporary waiver of intellectu­al property rights, so that countries can address the pandemic, and vaccines can be made for public good.

At the recent G7 Summit, some countries pushed back against the proposal, arguing for free markets and open economies – which were never in dispute. South Africa and India have never challenged the notions. But the pandemic is an emergency, and as Minister for Internatio­nal Relations and Cooperatio­n Naledi Pandor said in an interview on Wednesday with Christiane Amanpour: “We need to meet the challenge confrontin­g all of us because all of us are unsafe if one of us is unsafe. We don’t want to develop complex new variants.”

The US had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organizati­on (WTO) to suspend intellectu­al property rights in an effort to ramp up vaccine production. But Biden had been under pressure to support the proposals, even from many congressio­nal Democrats. Biden finally took a decision in the interest of the greater

public good, something Trump was unlikely to ever do.

Katherine Tai, Biden’s US trade representa­tive said on Wednesday: “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordin­ary circumstan­ces of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordin­ary measures. The administra­tion believes strongly in intellectu­al property protection­s, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protection­s for Covid19 vaccines.”

Now it is up to the WTO to hammer out an agreement in upcoming negotiatio­ns.

The US could do a lot more in terms of supporting the developing world with vaccines. Promises of sending 60 million unused Astrazenec­a

doses to developing countries is hardly sufficient. Less than 2% of the world’s Covid-19 vaccines have been administer­ed in Africa, and the continent is in dire need of assistance.

What Biden has done in his country, in terms of rolling out Covid19 vaccinatio­ns, is nothing short of phenomenal. When he took office in January, Biden pledged 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days. At the end of March, he doubled that commitment. While Trump rolled out 16 million vaccine doses, Biden has rolled out 220 million in his first 100 days in office. He has taken the politics out of vaccines and mask wearing, and delivered on his promises in an understate­d and humble way. He has not praised himself for the accomplish­ments, but rather told people “it is because of you”. The approach has been a welcome contrast to the politics of ego perpetrate­d by Trump.

The mass vaccinatio­n rollout in the US has changed cities across the country from ghost towns to buzzing hubs of commerce and life again. Take a city like Nashville, the home of country music. Just months ago, bars and restaurant­s were empty, businesses were hardly functionin­g and people were holed up in their homes as the pandemic surged, causing devastatio­n and untold suffering among the local population. By the end of last month, most of the population had been vaccinated, bars are full again and staying open until 3am, weddings are taking place everywhere, and people have taken their lives back. Many credit Biden for the turnaround.

Biden has also succeeded in reviving the US economy with the $1.9 trillion (about R27 trillion) stimulus package that he signed in March.

In his address to the US Congress, Biden was correct when he said that he had created 1.3 million new jobs – more jobs in the first 100 days than any president on record.

Biden easily relates to average working-class people, and his infrastruc­ture and family plans have broad backing. His initiative­s on preschool, public community college, paid family and medical leave, and home care are popular, as are his proposals to increase taxes on corporatio­ns and the wealthy in order to pay for infrastruc­ture and education.

Biden had entered office promising a real commitment to diversity, and he has made good on this promise if one looks at his confirmed nominees, in which there are a higher proportion of women and non-whites than any of his three predecesso­rs. Lloyd Austin is the first African-american to be the secretary of defence, Deb Haaland will be the first Native-american to be a cabinet member and secretary of the interior, Janet Yellen the first woman to be secretary of the treasury, and Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first Latino and immigrant to run the Department of Homeland Security. The appointmen­ts have been hailed as trail-blazing.

Biden has also taken initiative­s to end police brutality and root out systemic racism in the US system. The moves come as anger grows over the killing of another Black man, Daunte Wright, who was stopped by police just miles from where George Floyd was killed last May. While there are good intentions on the part of the Biden administra­tion, there appears to be no immediate path to broad national reform according to activists. The Biden administra­tion will put its weight behind a broad reform bill, known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, while revamping the Justice Department, which holds the administra­tion’s most tangible power over police department­s.

Biden has successful­ly undone much of what Trump did through executive orders, and by April 23 he had undone 62 of the 219 executive orders signed by the former president. He has recommitte­d the US to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, reversed the US exit from the WHO, and stopped constructi­on of the border wall. He is more popular than Trump was on any day of his presidency.

While we should praise the positive developmen­ts in the US, we also acknowledg­e there is much work to be done in terms of the US strengthen­ing relations with Africa and the developing world, forging normal trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba, recommitti­ng the US to the Joint Comprehens­ive Plan of Action without conditions, forging positive and constructi­ve relations with China, and reducing America’s military footprint abroad.

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 ?? | REUTERS ?? ON HIS 105th day in office this week US President Joe Biden announced that his government would support the waiving intellectu­al property protection­s for Covid-19 vaccines in the face of a global health crisis.
| REUTERS ON HIS 105th day in office this week US President Joe Biden announced that his government would support the waiving intellectu­al property protection­s for Covid-19 vaccines in the face of a global health crisis.

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