U.S. Sends Equipment—but Not Vaccine Doses—to India
The United States will lift a ban on exporting vaccine raw materials and provide financing to boost domestic production.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States agrees to send equipment to India to help fight a COVID-19 surge, a missing Indonesian submarine is found on the ocean floor, and the world this week.
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U.S. Aids India’s Coronavirus Crisis
India’s coronavirus surge shows no signs of abating, as the country’s daily infections set a new world record for the fifth day running. Over a million more Indians have contracted the virus over the past three days, according to official figures, although the true count is likely higher.
As India’s crisis deepens, the United States has belatedly decided to lend a hand. In an apparent U-turn, the Biden administration is now planning to send vaccine raw materials, COVID-19 testing kits, and other medical equipment to India which had previously been subject to an export ban under the Defense Production Act. It will also provide financing to increase India’s domestic production of vaccines.
The move is a departure from the administration’s more ambivalent tone last week. On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price, when responding to a question about whether the United States would lift the export ban, said that the U.S. vaccination drive came first. His remark that “it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated,” was met with particular anger and scorn in India.
Vaccine hoarding. Although Washington has bowed to pressure on providing materials critical to vaccine production and medical treatment, the Biden administration is still holding tight to U.S. vaccine stocks. With 1.2 billion vaccine doses purchased, the United States has enough vaccine to cover its population twice over (without even considering the 1.3 billion doses it has the option to buy, according to a count by the Duke University Global Health Innovation Center). As the Washington Post reports, the bulging stock of U.S. vaccines is becoming a source of resentment among poorer nations.
Pharma fears. Even as drug makers secure hefty contracts, they remain nervous that the Biden administration may disrupt booming business by backing an intellectual property waiver on vaccines at the World Trade Organization. In a sign of the times, pharmaceutical lobbyists have warned lawmakers of the supposed dangers of lifesaving mRNA technology getting into Chinese and Russian hands, according to the Financial Times. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative has yet to change the U.S. position, but said it is “evaluating the efficacy” of the waiver proposal.
As a New York Times editorial laid out on Sunday, the White House may be one of the only voices strong enough to pull back some of the excesses of the pharmaceutical giants. A recent Bureau of Investigative Journalism report highlights accusations that Pfizer has been “bullying” Latin American governments into putting up embassy buildings, military bases, and other sovereign assets as liability cover against any future legal cases—leading to delays in some vaccine deals.
The World This Week
On Tuesday, April 27, European parliament members vote on whether to ratify the EU-U.K. trade agreement. The vote was delayed in February over translation concerns, and again in March to protest U.K. changes to the Northern Ireland protocol.
A Brazilian Senate panel investigating President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic meets for the first time.
On Wednesday, April 28, The United Nations hosts talks between the two governments on the island of Cyprus along with Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa gives evidence at the country’s state capture corruption inquiry.
On Thursday, April 29, lawyers for Russian dissident Alexei Navalny appeal his guilty sentence in a defamation case. Navalny’s lawyers argue that their client must be physically present for the appeal.
Friday, April 30, marks U.S. President Joe Biden’s 100th day in office.
What We’re Following Today
Indonesian submarine found. The 53 Indonesian sailors aboard a missing submarine have been confirmed dead after authorities found the vessel’s wreckage of at the bottom of the Bali Sea. The submarine had gone missing last Wednesday during military drills. Indonesian Navy Chief of Staff Yudo Margono said “forces of nature” were responsible for the tragedy, believed to have been caused when the 44-year old ship cracked, breaking it into pieces.
Turkey and Armenia react to U.S. genocide declaration. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he “entirely rejects” U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in a speech over the weekend, as Ankara summoned the U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield to express official displeasure. A Turkish foreign ministry statement called Biden’s announcement a “grave mistake” that “undermines our mutual trust and friendship.” Armenia’s foreign affairs ministry welcomed the U.S. statement, saying it continued the “strong American tradition of standing by truth and justice.”
ASEAN’s Myanmar summit. Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists have criticized a consensus statement delivered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) following the group’s weekend summit as they continue months-long protests. The gathering was the first foreign travel by Myanmar coup leader Gen. Ming Aung Hlaing since the junta’s Feb. 1 seizure of power.
ASEAN countries agreed on five points on Myanmar: An end to violence, appointing a special ASEAN envoy, supplying humanitarian assistance, allowing a delegation to visit the country, and asking that “all parties” be involved in dialogue. According to a Reuters report, an original draft statement had called for the release of political prisoners, however that demand was watered down in the published version.
Keep an Eye On
Global defense spending. Global defense spending increased in 2020, despite a sharp downturn in the global economy, according to an annual report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Overall spending reached nearly $2 trillion, a 2.6 percent increase from the 2019 figure. Defense budgets in the Middle East fell by 6.5 percent, helped by a 10 percent cut by Saudi Arabia. The five biggest spenders—the United States, China, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom—all increased their defense spending in 2020.
The Biden-Putin summit. U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 15-16, according to Russian daily Kommersant. The newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said the summit would be held in a European country. Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Putin, told the Russian news agency RIA that the government had yet to reach a firm decision on whether the summit would go ahead.
Peru’s election. Left-wing candidate Pedro Castillo is heavily favored by Peru’s electorate ahead of the country’s June 6 presidential runoff, according to a recent poll; 41.5 percent of respondents backed Castillo in the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos survey, with his challenger Keiko Fujimori receiving only 21.5 percent support.
Decisions surrounding the economy seemed to drive support for Castillo, with more than half of those expressing support for him saying they would support a total change to the country’s economic system. There is still a chance that the vote could be competitive: 34.7 percent of those surveyed wanted neither candidate or were undecided.
Odds and Ends
Taxi and limousine services near the U.S.-Canada border are seeing a spike in business as travelers seek to circumvent Canada’s strict quarantine requirements. Under current regulations, those flying into Canada must spend up to three days out of a 14-day quarantine period at a hotel. No such restrictions apply to overland travelers, prompting budget-conscious travelers to return to North America via U.S. airports and book a car for the final leg. The Canadian Border Services Agency appears to have measured the phenomenon; border crossings jumped 60 percent in the last week in March compared to 2020.
“They call from six in the morning to 12 at night,” John Arnet, general manager of 716 Limousine in Buffalo, New York, told Reuters. “We’ve had so many requests for border crossings that we’re turning them down.”
Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn