There was a specific discussion around the COVID-19 wave currently underway in India during Ms Tai’s meetings
United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai met with the heads of vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and AstraZeneca on Tuesday and discussed the role of developing countries in addressing global gaps in vaccine production and distribution. There is growing pressure on the U.S. — both at home and abroad — to support an Indian and South African initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that will waive intellectual property rights temporarily to address COVID-19 related medical shortages.
Ms Tai committed to working with WTO members on global response to the pandemic including the role of developing countries in addressing gaps in the production and distribution of vaccines, the USTR office said.
There was a specific discussion around the COVID-19 wave currently underway in India during Ms Tai’s meetings (which appeared to be separate) with Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla, and AstraZeneca US Head Ruud Dobber. U.S. government assistance to India and the messaging around it kicked into high gear over the weekend, after about a week of mostly silence, for which the Biden administration has been widely criticized.
The White House announce on Monday that it would make some 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine available to other countries over the next few months. The vaccine has not been approved for use in the U.S.
During her meeting with Mr Dobber , Ms Tai “highlighted the announcement that the United States was examining options to share AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries as they become available,” her office said.
“The Ambassador [ Ms. Tai ] expressed her deep sympathy for the people of India and reiterated that the Biden-Harris Administration’s top priority is saving lives and ending the pandemic in the United States and around the world,” one of the meeting readouts from USTR said.
A group of ten senators, including some high profile ones like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, had written to President Joe Biden earlier in April asking him to support a waiver of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) at the WTO.
A senior administration official confirmed to The Hindu on Monday (during a briefing call) that the topic came up “briefly” when Mr Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a phone call earlier that day. However, beyond saying that the administration was looking at ways to bolster the production of vaccines, including mRNA vaccines (such as those from Pfizer and Moderna), officials did not confirm Mr Biden’s position on the TRIPS issue. Monday’s USTR statements however suggest conversations are underway and a U.S. position on the initiative at the WTO is evolving.