EU’s vaccine aid request to India had set the table for a long-term alliance

EU’s vaccine aid request to India had set the table for a long-term alliance
German chancellor Angela Merkel with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during the formers official visit in 2019. The EU’s request for vaccine aid from India could go a long way in reaffirming strategic ties between the two parties ahead of an FTA.Courtesy: ANI

Brussel’s appeal for 10 million doses of the AstraZenaca vaccine could act as a confidence building measure, in securing agreements like the long-awaited FTA for India.

The request by the European Union (EU) to India asking to purchase 10 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment, putting the onus on Indian authorities to export more of its production to other countries.

Should the batch of vaccines be sent it would only serve to reaffirm ties with Europe and would put both sides in a more amiable frame of mind as India goes in search of a free trade agreement (FTA) with the continent. The export of vaccines could be a definite confidence building measure in search of the larger prize.

According to a report by Reuters, the EU wants the doses from Serum, the world's largest vaccine maker, to offset supply shortfalls from AstraZeneca's European plants and speed up the bloc's vaccine roll-out. It must be remembered, however, that currently India is focusing on its own national vaccination drive as infections rates have witnessed a sudden spurt.

Britain is also in line to receive the second shipment of 10 million doses from India that it had purchased from Serum.

India’s vaccine aid, should it materialise, would go a long way in reaffirming a partnership that could in turn pave the way for a long-awaited FTA agreement by both parties. The same process applies in New Delhi’s pursuit of an FTA with the United Kingdom as well.

EU lags in vaccine drive

There has been no official comment from the Indian foreign ministry, the Serum Institute, or even the EU Commission, on these developments. The EU bloc's per capita immunisation lags behind nations like Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Waiting for the vaccine to be administered.  India has gone in for a full-fledged national vaccination drive in the face of growing infection rates despite having exported 64 million vaccine doses to 83 countries.
Waiting for the vaccine to be administered. India has gone in for a full-fledged national vaccination drive in the face of growing infection rates despite having exported 64 million vaccine doses to 83 countries.Courtesy: ANI

India, on the other hand, has gone in for a massive national vaccination programme while, at the same time, ensuring that it had exported 64 million vaccine doses to 83 countries, and administered the same number of doses at home. India’s vaccination drive increased from Thursday last week to include everyone above the age of 45, which is expected to raise internal vaccine demand substantially given the increase in infection rates in certain states.

India’s vaccine aid to the EU, should it materialise, would go a long way in reaffirming a partnership that could pave the way for a long-awaited FTA agreement by both parties. New Delhi and the UK are also negotiating on a comprehensive trade deal. British prime minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to make a high-profile visit to India later this month and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is set to visit the UK in summer, setting the stage for a plethora of agreements and partnerships between the two countries.

Groundwork for FTA in place

The groundwork with the EU and the UK had already been put in place when Indian Commerce minister Piyush Goyal met European Commission executive vice-president and trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis for a High Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment, while Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman met her UK counterpart Liz Truss.

The sweeteners to the FTA with the EU and the UK have been proposed ‘early harvest’ deals with an intention to removing the log-hams around trade and investment-related issues. India’s investment agreements with most of the 27 member EU states had expired during 2017-2018 and a new forward is the only way out. A comprehensive trade deal with the EU would be German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s perfect swansong as she has repeatedly shown a willingness to do business with India and leave a lasting legacy when she vacates her position this September. Merkel has already sewn up a wide-ranging deal with China and India is the piece of the puzzle that needs to be slotted in.

An FTA with India makes sense for the EU in any case as Germany is India’s largest trading partner in the continent - with total bilateral trade of over $91.4 billion in 2019 – accounting for 11 percent of India’s overall trade. Despite certain areas of concern and focus the re-booting of India-EU trade talks, after seven years is a step in the right direction and a ratification of India’s international influence.

Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, through her unveiling of the 2021-2022 Union Budget, has shown significant signs that India is ready to do business and invite foreign interest and participation from countries and investors.
Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, through her unveiling of the 2021-2022 Union Budget, has shown significant signs that India is ready to do business and invite foreign interest and participation from countries and investors.Courtesy: ANI

India is open for business

India, in turn, has displayed a statement of intent via the fine print of its 2021-2022 Union Budget that it is open for business and is removing all the bureaucratic obstacles in search of foreign investments and partners.

Methods of doing business will undergo a drastic shift as age-old norms and practices will need to be abandoned in search of new solutions and practices. Agility and adaptability will be the buzzwords as a new era is carved out in search for economic stability and prosperity. The India-EU partnership therefore, according to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, “Can play an important role in economic reconstruction, and in building human-centric globalization.”

India’s display of vaccine maitri is one such confidence building measure, among others.

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