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US and Europe have lost out to China, Russia and India in vaccine diplomacy in Latin America

Latin American governments find negotiations with Pfizer more difficult


Latin America is the worst hit region in the world with the corona virus. The nineteen countries of the region have suffered over twenty million infections accounting for 18.5 per cent of the global cases. The 6,31,000 deaths in the region are 25 per cent of the total world fatalities. Brazil has the third largest number of infections with over ten million cases. Brazil ranks second in the world with 2,44,000 deaths followed in the third position by Mexico with 1,79,000. The region needs urgent supply of vaccines desperately.

Latin America's need for the vaccine is met promptly and cooperatively by China, Russia and India. In contrast, there is total indifference from US and Europe.

Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela have authorised/implemented use of the Sputnik V vaccine. Others including Colombia are considering authorisation of the Russian vaccine. Argentina has ordered about 25 million doses of the Russian vaccine.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru, among other countries, have acquired Chinese vaccines.

India has already supplied/committed to supply to Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Dominican Republic. More countries might be added to this list.

The most obvious missing names among vaccine suppliers are US and Europe. They are concerned only with their own citizens. They are not only inward looking but even squabbling among themselves ( EU vs UK ) about share of vaccines. They have not shown any solidarity or intention to help Latin America. Moreover, the western countries have overbought the vaccines beyond their requirements thereby reducing availability of supplies to developing countries.

Of course, the American Pfizer was one of the earliest to roll out its vaccine. But unsurprisingly, their vaccine is more expensive. It costs19.50 dollars per dose as against around 10 dollars of Russian and Chinese vaccines while the Indian ones will be less than ten dollars. The Pfizer vaccine poses logistical challenges since it needs to be stored at ultra-freezing temperatures of 35 to 45 degree F.

Apart from price and logistics, the Latin American governments find negotiations with Pfizer more difficult than with Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi. Pfizer puts some difficult- to- accept liability conditions which even provoked even the pro-US Bolsonaro.

The Latin Americans will not forget those who helped them and those failed them at this historic crisis time.

Colombian President Ivan Duque's party members had earlier joined the American chorus of condemnation of Putin on violations of democracy and human rights. But it did not stop the pro-US Colombian government from ordering Russian vaccines.

The US trashes the Chinese economic presence in Latin America and warns about Russian designs in the region. But Washington DC has nothing to say about the Chinese and Russian vaccines which help the region.

The US keeps lecturing and forcing Latin America to divert its scarce resources to the so called war on drugs. But there is no word from US on the vaccine for Latin America.

The Latin Americans are also upset by the silence from the Europeans who never miss any opportunity to criticize the region on the issues of environment and democracy.

President Bolsonaro wrote a desperate letter to Prime Minister Modi for urgent supply of vaccines. On receiving prompt supply, he thanked India profusely. No Latin American President wrote to the US President or any European head of government for vaccines.

The fact that an Indian company Bharath Biotech has developed an indigenous vaccine has enhanced the profile of India. Some Latin American countries including Brazil have placed orders for this.

India is the fifth largest supplier of medicines to Latin America with 1.2 billion dollars. India’s pharmaceutical exports to Latin America have increased by an impressive 23 per cent in the first eight months of 2020 from April to November, according to the statistics of Commerce Ministry of India. The 23 per cent increase is even more significant in the context of the 13 per cent fall in India’s total exports to the region, caused by the pandemic crisis.

The Latin American governments and people have already recognised India's valuable contribution to reduction of Latin American cost of health care with low cost generics. The vaccine supply will further strengthen the image of India as a reliable and valuable development and commercial partner in the long term.

The author is an expert in Latin American affairs

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