India envoy asks China to help stop price surging of COVID-19 supplies

Teddy Ng and Simone McCarthy, South China Morning Post

Posted at May 12 2021 05:33 PM

India is calling on China to help stop surging prices and increase cargo flights to get urgently needed supplies to the pandemic-ravaged country.

Indian companies have sourced oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies from their Chinese counterparts but have been hit with prices at more than double the usual rate, while cargo flights between the two countries have yet to return to previous levels.

India’s envoy in Hong Kong Priyanka Chauhan said price instability and transport disruptions had affected moves to ramp up production in India to deal with its recent surge in coronavirus cases, and the Chinese government could step in.

“What I would like say is that our expectation at this point is that the supply chain should remain open and product prices should remain stable,” she said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

“Even if there is a little bit of supply demand pressure, there has to be some stability and predictability to product prices. And there has to be a sense of governmental level support and efforts. I don’t have the information as to how much influence the Chinese government can have in this matter but if they can, then it would be welcome.”

India is grappling with the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak. Daily cases rose by 329,942 on Tuesday, while deaths from the disease increased by 3,876, according to the health ministry. The surge has left the country scrambling for medical supplies and professionals to care for the growing numbers of patients. A number of countries have also slapped bans on travellers from India.

Chauhan said she appreciated the need for travel bans based on public health concerns, but added that India was asking China to facilitate cargo flights so that supplies could be delivered.

State-owned Sichuan Airlines Logistics suspended cargo flights to India for 15 days last month in response to the surge, which the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India warned would have a cascading effect on supply chains. The council also appealed to India’s envoy in Beijing to press for a resumption in flights.

Chauhan said a phone conversation between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in April had helped with the clearance and approval of cargo flights, but they had not returned to the same frequency as before the second wave.

She suggested higher level assurances to officials giving clearance to flights could help. “Unreasonable control should be avoided, and transport linkages should be maintained.”
China’s efforts have been largely confined to private companies and donations from the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, while other nations have pledged government help. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Japan would contribute US$50 million in additional aid to India.

Chauhan commended the “friendship that we have seen from the international community”, pointing to more than 50 countries that have supported India by sending supplies.

When asked whether there should be more government-level cooperation between China and India during the pandemic for more of a guarantee on price stability and supply chain, Chauhan said India would be open to discussing the issue to see if a better mechanism could be agreed.

India has been a key member of the US-led Quad alliance, which also includes Australia and Japan and is seen as a bid to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. At a summit in March, the alliance pledged to deliver a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine throughout the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022.
India, with its giant pharmaceutical industry, is key to the initiative. 

Hyderabad-based Biological E Ltd was scaling up capacity to produce at least a billion doses by the end of 2022, and the Serum Institute of India was slated to prove more than a billion doses to Covax Facility, the World Health Organization’s programme for equitable access.

These commitments are on hold as India’s second wave has forced a stop to its vaccine exports. Chauhan said India was boosting vaccine supply and production, and looking at other vaccines not produced in India, including Russia’s Sputnik and Pfizer.

“Once this phase is over, we will go back to producing for the world again,” she said.

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