Jaishankar to meet Blinken, U.N. chief during U.S. visit

He is also expected to meet American manufacturers on commercial procurement of vaccine doses

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will travel to the United States next week to discuss bilateral issues and “COVID-related cooperation,” the Ministry announced on Friday. Mr. Jaishankar will travel to New York and Washington in a visit scheduled from May 24-28, and will meet with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

As The Hindu had reported a day earlier, Mr. Jaishankar is also expected to meet with American vaccine manufacturers in addition to his official meetings, and discussions are expected to focus on commercial procurement of vaccine doses from both the industry including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, as well as gifts of extra doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine that the U.S. government plans to share with other countries.

Business forums

“The External Affairs Minister will have two interactions with business forums on economic and COVID-related cooperation between India and the U.S.,” the MEA statement said. Mr. Jaishankar is expected to meet with business representatives at the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) and the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) during the visit. In recent weeks, both groups have formed a “Global Task Force on Pandemic Response” along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to work on several aspects of pandemic relief, including provision of 1,000 ventilators required by hospitals in India, 25,000 oxygen concentrators and coordination of human resources executives in India and the U.S. for the effort.

Industry sources said Mr. Jaishankar would address a round table with CEOs of various vaccine and pharmaceutical companies, where U.S. manufacturers are keen to discuss a more centralised procurement for American vaccines, rather than the current State by State mechanism, and would like to see India grant Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) for the U.S. vaccines soon. American industry representatives are also likely to discuss liability issues with the Indian team.

Export ban

Meanwhile, India still wants the U.S. to reconsider its export ban under the Defence Production Act (DPA) for vaccine ingredients, which Indian manufacturers need to ramp up production in the next few months.

The External Affairs Minister is expected to make a stop at the United Nations, his first visit since India assumed its two-year term at the Security Council this January, before travelling to Washington. Officials said the meeting with Mr. Guterres would focus on exchanging views on a range of issues, expected to include India’s efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Afghanistan talks process, where India plays a role as Chair of Taliban Sanctions Committee at the UNSC, the recent violence between Israel and Palestine, and U.N. reforms.

This is also Mr. Jaishankar’s first visit to the U.S. since the new President Joe Biden assumed office in January, and the Minister is expected to meet several senior administration officials “dealing with the bilateral relationship” during his visit to Washington, the MEA statement noted. Mr. Jaishankar had already met Mr. Blinken earlier this month during a visit to London to attend the G-7 ministerial meeting. The visit had been marked by an incident where Mr. Jaishankar and members of his delegation were asked to quarantine during their London visit after two team members reportedly tested positive. Sources said the Minister and his delegation would travel to the U.S. on the weekend itself, and isolate for a few days in advance of his meetings.

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