Regulatory, legal, commercial and supply-side aspects under discussion, says Minister
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed a range of issues on Friday including COVID-19 vaccine procurement, India-China border issues (according to the U.S.), climate change, the Quad and the bilateral relationship. Discussions around vaccine procurement for India and issues — such as indemnity for vaccine manufacturers — are still being resolved.
“I’m not going to get into the very specific angles of what was discussed, but certainly, vaccine manufacturing, procurement, delivery — the larger question of how we can cooperate together both bilaterally and on the larger Quad context were covered today,” Acting Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson — who was present at the meeting — said in response to a question from The Hindu. Both he and Mr. Jaishankar addressed the Indian press separately after the bilateral meeting.
Asked whether there was a discussion on the allocation of vaccines from the U.S. stockpile, Mr. Jaishankar said the topic came up but did not get into details.
“The issue came up in at a conceptual level. But, you know, my understanding is that in the coming days, or weeks, the U.S. will obviously make its decisions,” he said. The Biden administration has committed to sharing 60 million AstraZeneca doses and 20 million additional vaccine doses with the rest of the world by the end of June. American officials have said they will work with COVAX — an international effort to equitably distribute vaccines — in arriving at the allocation.
Expanding vaccine manufacturing in India, Mr. Jaishankar said, was one of the goals of his visit to Washington. In a tweet on Friday, he said his meeting with Mr. Blinken and team “also focused on Indo-U.S. vaccine partnership aimed at expanding access and ensuring supply”.
Resolving issues around U.S. demands for indemnity and early Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) were central to Mr. Jaishankar’s agenda in Washington, The Hindu had reported.
However, regulatory, legal, commercial and supply-side aspects were still under discussion, the Minister told members of the Indian press on Friday.
“These [ discussions] are going on between the companies concerned and … the authorised people in India.”
Primary focus on relationship
Summarising his trip, Mr. Jaishankar said the “primary focus” was “on the relationship, new administration” and to engage them.
He also said the most important subject discussed was the “vaccine partnership” and the Quad-based vaccine discussions (a plan for India, the U.S., Australia and Japan to collaborate to produce at least 1 billion vaccines in India for use in the Asia region by the end of 2022).
Just prior to their bilateral meeting, the two Foreign Ministers delivered brief remarks to the press, with Mr. Jaishankar thanking the U.S. and the Biden administration for its solidarity and support to India “at a moment of great difficulty” for the country. Conveying India’s appreciation to the U.S. for its assistance was also an objective of the trip, he said later.
Mr. Blinken noted — as U.S. officials have repeatedly done — that India helped the U.S. last year, when it was in the throes of the pandemic.
On whether the issue of indemnity for foreign vaccine manufacturers had come up during his meetings with industry representatives on Thursday, Mr. Jaishankar said they did not and were being discussed at other levels.
“These won’t be conversations at my meeting, which is a larger gathering with people… because these are very focused conversations and those conversations are taking place with the facilitation of the embassy, between the regulators and the authorities on the Indian side, and these companies,” he said, adding that his business meetings were about what kind of lockdown was happening in India and its impact.
Asked during a briefing with the Indian press at the Indian Embassy about Rahul Gandhi’s view that vaccine diplomacy had not worked for India, Mr. Jaishankar said he did not to get into it.
“I’m not here to exchange political polemics. I don’t do that when I leave the country. And I expect other people to understand that,” he said.
Discussion on India-China border
At their bilateral, the two sides had also discussed “the India-China border, the coup in Burma, and continuing support for Afghanistan,” according to Mr. Thompson.
“…We continue to watch the situation very closely and hope that everything can be resolved peaceably as things go forward,” he said.
Mr. Blinken also confirmed that the India-China border was discussed.
“Productive discussion today with @DrSJaishankar on regional security and economic priorities to include U.S. COVID-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation, and our support for Afghanistan. As friends, we will work together to address these areas of shared concern,” he tweeted after the meeting.
On the China question, Mr. Jaishankar did not name the country explicitly but said the two sides had discussed the whole Indo-Pacific and its security issues. Being strategic partners, we have very close ties in many fields including defence and it was natural for them to discuss challenges in that sphere, he said.