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Biden Called to Reverse Trump-Era ‘Vaccine Apartheid’

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by Selvam Canagaratna

President Biden is coming under mounting pressure at home and abroad to reverse a Trump-era policy and publicly support a temporary waiver on international patent rights for COVID vaccines and treatments that would allow countries around the world to manufacture lifesaving doses domestically.

Big Pharma opposes the trade protections waiver, but global health advocates, congressional Democrats and leaders across the world say the waiver is necessary address massive inequities in vaccine distribution, prevent needless suffering and bring the global pandemic to an end. Now they are asking Biden to put people over corporate profits and pick a side.

“If the question is more profit for the drug companies, or saving God knows how many lives, then the answer is pretty simple,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told reporters during a press conference on Friday. COVID has already more than three million lives globally.

On Friday, Sanders and other leading Democrats joined more than a dozen public health, labour and faith organizations in delivering a petition with two million signatures to Biden demanding the US drop its opposition to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization. Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Tammie Baldwin and seven other Democratic senators sent a urging Biden to support the TRIPS waiver earlier this month.

The WTO is meeting on May 5 to again consider the waiver, which was introduced by India and South Africa back in October and is supported by over 100 countries, according to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. The that a handful of drug companies have on proprietary technology and know-how needed to scale-up vaccine manufacturing globally by protecting vaccine makers supporting lower-income countries from patent lawsuits for the remainder of the pandemic.

Currently, a small number of high- and middle-income nations — including the US, UK, the European Union, India and China — account for the majority of vaccine doses administered so far, to the Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University. On April 9, the United Nations that richer countries had administered 87 percent of the 700 million shots provided globally while only 0.2 percent had been administered in low-income countries.

Pauline Muchina, an advocate for the Africa region at the American Friends Service Committee, said most nations without COVID-19 vaccines are home to people of colour. “Black lives matter globally,” Muchina said. “President Biden, please help end vaccine apartheid.”

The COVID-19 virus continues to spread and mutate, with raising fears that without a global, co-ordinated effort to quickly manufacture vaccines in poorer countries, the pandemic will continue to claim untold numbers of lives while threatening economic recovery. The manufacturing capacity is out there, advocates say, but other countries need access to proprietary production technology and the vaccine “recipe” in order to develop that capacity.

While waiver proponents applauded efforts by Biden and the pharmaceutical industry to ramp up vaccination in the US, they warn that vaccine-resistant virus variants could develop across the world if vaccines are not available in poorer countries. These mutations could threaten all the progress the US has made at home — and threaten countless lives around the world.

Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America, said the US has invested billions of taxpayer dollars into vaccine development, but the world remains at the mercy of a handful of private companies that control where the vaccine is produced and distributed.

“One in four citizens of rich countries have been vaccinated, and just one in 500 in poorer countries have done so, and this inequality is a moral, public health and economic disaster that threatens to prolong this pandemic around the world,” Maxman said.

The Trump administration, the United Kingdom and a handful of other wealthy WTO countries that invested heavily in vaccine development have blocked the global trade forum from even negotiating the language of the proposed waiver. Biden hasn’t changed this stance, but now, members of his own party are urging him to reverse course. Dozens of Democrats in Congress have signed letters supporting the waiver, according to Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who is leading the effort in the House.

Schakowsky said support is also growing within the Biden administration, and if the US takes a stand, the handful of other wealthy nations blocking the waiver would likely follow suit.

“So, the momentum is really growing both inside and outside of the [administration] to take action, and you don’t have to go beyond self-interest to see how sensible it would be for us to act,” Schakowsky said during the press conference with Sanders, adding that the progress the US has made could be erased if the virus is allowed to spread in the developing world.

Under President Donald Trump, the US embraced “,” to private pharmaceutical companies while shunning international co-operation. Biden is working to restore US leadership on the global stage and has pledged $4 billion over the next three years for COVAX, an international effort to aims to provide two vaccine doses this year, but Democrats and waiver proponents argue COVAX alone is inadequate.

Based on industry data estimates that manufacturers could produce 12 billion by the end of this year, although researchers caution that the data is murky and this figure is based on the industry’s optimistic assumptions. Assuming that most vaccines distributed this year will be the type that require two doses, experts say 11 billion vaccine doses are needed to cover 70 percent of the world’s population — the threshold that some experts say necessary to approach herd immunity. That threshold could be met if manufacturers meet their goals and vaccines are distributed equitably, but those are two “big ifs,” .

The analysts say there are other big ifs as well. For example, it remains unclear whether will require a new generation of vaccines, and if booster shots of current vaccines will be needed after immunity wears off. Questions remain about vaccine distribution, and under current projections, it could take more than two or more years for vaccines to reach people in low-income countries.

“Few in developing countries are projected to have access to vaccines this year, and if current trends continue, they may not have access until 2024,” said Tulika Singh, an organizer with Right to Health Action and Ph.D. candidate in virology whose grandmother died of COVID in India.

The pharmaceutical industry and some Republicans that intellectual property protections are helping to facilitate a global vaccine rollout, but proponents of the waiver say the industry is primarily concerned with protecting profits. Big Pharma has paid out to shareholders during the pandemic, enough money to vaccinate everyone living in Africa. “We can’t let the pursuit of private profit trump global health,” Maxman said.

He and other advocates said the few companies with monopoly rights on vaccine “recipes” are creating “artificial scarcity” in order to boost profits. If intellectual property protections are temporarily lifted, then manufacturers in large, middle-income countries such as India and South Africa can create generic and biosimilar vaccines for much of the developing world. Maxman hopes for a “people’s vaccine” that can be produced patent-free worldwide.

A similar scenario played out during the height of the AIDS epidemic, when TRIPS protections were lifted on anti-viral therapies that were credited with saving millions of lives. Muchina said Biden needs to ask himself whether he will stand with the majority of Americans and countries across the globe in support of the waiver, or with Big Pharma.

“My mom who is over 90 years old in Kenya can’t access the vaccine, because someone is being selfish with the knowledge that is needed to save humanity,” Muchina said.

 

 



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Features

Danger of disregarding Geopolitical Realities

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Negotiating Agreements for Foreign Investments:

By Dr. S.W. Premaratne
Attorney-at-Law

Foreign Policy decision-maker, of a state, have to take into consideration the prevailing geopolitical environment of the international system, and of the region concerned, at a given time, when there is a foreign policy aspect involved in the decision that has to be taken regarding any issue Omission, or failure to give consideration to this aspect of the issue, can lead to disastrous consequences. Several examples from the recent political history of Sri Lanka can be given to illustrate this point.

Sri Lanka’s conduct of foreign policy, in the 1980s, is a clear example of the serious consequences of ignoring India’s concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s pro-West tilt in its foreign policy. Sri Lanka’s declared policy was non-alignment in maintaining relations with other states, specially the Big Powers in the West and the East. However, the J.R. Jayewardene government, that came to power, in 1977, sought to develop a closer relationship with the Western countries, led by the USA. The nature of the interactions between the diplomats of the USA and Sri Lanka, at the time, had given the impression to India that Sri Lanka was seeking the assistance of the USA for suppressing the Tamil militant movement in Sri Lank, fighting for the rights of the Tamil community. There were also reasons for India to suspect that there was an understanding between the Sri Lankan Government and the USA to allow the Trincomalee harbour to be used by the USA. It was this perception of India that Sri Lanka was following an anti-India foreign policy, endangering the security of India that motivated India to intervene militarily in the year 1987 to thwart the progress of the Vadamarachchi operation, aimed at militarily defeating the Tamil militant movement.

After aborting the progress of the Vadamarachchi operatio, the Indian government proceeded to compel the Sri Lankan Government to sign an Agreement – the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 – to ensure that Sri Lanka respected India’s security concerns and other interests when seeking assistance from outside Powers for Sri Lanka’s economic development or national security.

 

India’s concerns regarding China’s excessive involvement in Sri Lanka’s development projects

Sri Lanka’s political leaders and diplomats, whenever they get an opportunity, express their affection for their Big Brother, India, and express the need for further strengthening the friendship for the mutual benefit of both countries. India’s perception, however, is that, especially after the change of government in 2005, there is an evolving special relationship between Sri Lanka and China posing a serious threat to the national security of India.

Sri Lanka felt intensely isolated from the international community after adopting the Resolution A/HRC/46/L. Rev. 1 against Sri Lanka, at the UNHRC, in Geneva, in March, 2021, especially because India also decided to support the core-group indirectly by abstaining from voting.

The only consolation for Sri Lanka now is China’s expression of willingness to further strengthen its strategic relationship with Sri Lanka by extending further development assistance to Sri Lanka, within the framework of the Belt end Road Initiative. Subsequent to a telephone conversation between the two leaders, the President of China and the President of Sri Lanka, in a statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, on March 30, 2021, it was stated that “China attaches great importance to the development of bilateral ties and stands ready to work with Sri Lanka to determine the strategic direction and achieve steady growth of the relationship. China stands ready to steadily push forward major projects, like the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port, and promote high quality Belt and Road Co-operation, providing robust impetus for Sri Lanka’s post pandemic economic recovery and sustainable development”. China projecting Sri Lanka as an intimate partner of the Belt and Road strategy indicates that Sri Lanka is distancing itself from the path of non-alignment and adopting an anti-Western and anti-India approach.

In the matter of obtaining foreign investments for development projects, Sri Lanka has failed to foresee the foreign policy implications of overreliance on China. The two massive development projects, initiated during the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, which came to power in 2005, were the Hambantota sea port and the Port City Project in Colombo. The amount of money invested for these two projects, by China, was so massive that Sri Lanka happened to sign an agreement for permitting the management and control of the Hambantota Port by the state-controlled company of China, under a 99-year lease agreement. The Management and control of the Colombo Port City area also has been granted to the Chinese construction company, under a 99-year lease agreement. Not only India, but also the USA and other Western countries have expressed serious concern regarding the involvement of China in strategically significant massive development projects in Sri Lanka. India’s perception now is that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier of China, stationed in the Indian Ocean, close to India. Hambantota Port is viewed as another pearl in the string of pearls maintained for containing India by China.

India is also concerned over the lack of interest on the part of the Sri Lankan Government to go ahead with the development projects regarding which agreement had been reached with India, during the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe coalition government. In May, 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), Japan and India proposing the development of the East Container Terminal jointly, Sri Lanka and Ports Authority retaining 51 percent shares. However, the present Government deviated from that understanding and decided to nominate one Indian investor, Adani Group, disregarding Japan. But, the attempt of the Sri Lankan Government to involve the Indian Company in this project by offering 49 percent of the shares of the ECT was thwarted by the trade union action of the port workers, supported by an influential section of the Buddhist priests and also a section of the ruling alliance. The Sri Lankan government had no alternative but to respond to the demand of the trade unions by getting the Cabinet approval for developing the ECT only by the Colombo Port Authority, without involving India or Japan.

India has also expressed concern over the attitude of the Sri Lankan Government concerning the development and management of the Trincomalee oil tank farm. The lower farm has been managed jointly by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) via Lanka IOC Private Limited. The 2003 tripartite agreement signed by the Sri Lankan Government, LIOC and the CPC covers the entire tank farm. India is now concerned about the excessive delay in granting the Sri Lankan Government’s approval for commencing the development of the Upper Tank Farm, comprising 84 tanks.

Another joint venture, regarding which Sri Lanka sought the involvement of India’s Petronet LNG Ltd. Company, and also a Japanese investor, was the proposed liquefied natural gas LNG terminal that was to be set up near Colombo. Although Indian and Japanese Investors had indicated their willingness to join this project, as partners, the Sri Lankan Government has not yet given its final approval for commencing the construction work.

India is also very much concerned over the lack of progress in the reconciliation process initiated after the end of the war. India’s concern in this regard was expressed very effectively and in very clear language in a statement made by the Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar in the course of a media conference during his two-day visit to Sri Lanka in January, this year. In his statement the Indian Foreign Minister said: “As we promote peace and wellbeing in the region, India has been strongly committed to the unity stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Our support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is long standing as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony. It is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity, within a united Sri Lanka, are fulfilled. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution”.

Sri Lanka should not consider that India’s interest and involvement in the post-war reconciliation process as a case of a foreign country intervening in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka illegally. India is guided by a mindset that there is a moral responsibility on her part to intervene and bring about a final settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

 

Colombo Port City Economic Commission

Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill which was challenged in the Supreme Court, purported to establish an Economic Commission for the administration of the Port City, built by a construction company of the Chinese Government, adjacent to the Colombo Port. This Bill seeks to grant extensive powers to an institution called the Colombo Port Economic Commission, whose members will be appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. According to the provisions in the Bill, the supervisory power of the Parliament of Sri Lanka has been excluded, both regarding the manner of exercising the powers granted by the proposed legislation to the Commission, and also regarding the selection of persons to be appointed as members of the Commission.

Moreover, regarding the activities that take place within the Colombo Port City area, some institutions of the Government of Sri Lanka are excluded from exercising their authority. Dr. Wijedasa Rajapaksa, in his written submissions submitted to the Supreme Court, in connection with the petition filed challenging the Bill, makes specific reference to the Customs Ordinance. He gives the warning that there may be importation of prohibited substances such as drugs, weapons, etc. He points out that in the event of any violation of International Treaties and Conventions, within the Port City area, it is not the Commission but the Sri Lankan Government that is responsible.

 

Conclusion

In view of the intense power struggle between China on the one hand and India and other partners of the Quad, led by the USA on the other hand, for dominance in the Indian Ocean area, the Parliament of Sri Lanka passing legislation for permitting such a high degree of autonomy to an administrative authority that can be controlled by the Chinese government will be considered by India as a serious threat to its security. This pro-China foreign policy orientation will also be an obstacle for Sri Lanka to promote friendly relations with democratic countries in the West determined to thwart Chinese domination in the Indian Ocean region.

 

 

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Features

The Philippines and SL combine

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Singer Suzi Croner (Fluckiger), who was a big hit in this part of the world, singing with the group Friends, continues to make her presence felt on TNGlive – the platform, on social media, that promotes talent from all corners of the globe.

She made her third appearance, last Saturday, May 1st, but this time she had for company Sean, from the Philippines, who, incidentally, was in the finals of The Voice of Switzerland 2020.

Their repertoire, for TNGlive, on the evening of May 1st, including hit songs, like ‘Something Stupid,’ ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ (Sean), ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love,’ ‘Your Man,’ (Sean), ‘Crazy,’ ‘Great Pretender,’ (Sean), ‘Amazing,’ and ‘Stand By Me.’

It was a very entertaining programme, and Sean certainly did prove why he needed to be a finalist at the prestigious The Voice of Switzerland 2020.

You can take in the TNGlive scene, on a regular basis, by joining the Public Group TNGlive, on social media (Facebook).

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Entertainment…also responsible for this messy scene

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On many occasions, I’ve referred to the Covid-19 pandemic and the precautions those who are very much a part of the entertainment scene should take in order to keep this deadly virus under control.

I remember saying that we are seated on a ticking time bomb…ready to explode any moment!

Sadly, the people concerned, and the venues catering to those who check out such setups, did absolutely nothing. And, now we are feeling the heat of that time bomb.

Most of the nightspots were crowded with people who didn’t care less…about what the world, and Sri Lanka, was experiencing, with this killer virus, claiming the lives of millions, crippling the economy, people losing their jobs, etc.

Probably, they were following in the footsteps of Niro where it’s said that ‘Niro played the fiddle while Rome burnt.’

Such irresponsible folk didn’t take any of the Covid-19 health guidelines seriously; they were simply overjoyed, gyrating on a packed dance floor – with no masks, and no social distancing.

And, this scene came to a climax during the festive holidays where everyone was out celebrating, in style – again no masks, no social distancing, etc.

Well, sadly the end result is that musicians/ entertainers are now without work.

Where entertainment venues are concerned, it’s the management that has got to take the rap.

They seem to have turned a blind eye to the instructions issued by the health authorities with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of these managers gave the impression that they were not bothered by what Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, had to say, on radio, and on TV, on a daily basis, about the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizers.

Even if the situation continues to deteriorate, lots of people can still work from home but that is not possible where musicians are concerned.

Blame it on these entertainment venues…and those venues that kept their doors open for tamashas – parties, weddings, and all sorts of celebrations – without adhering to Covid-19 safety rules, laid down by the health authorities.

Yes, it’s certainly going to be a very tough scene for most entertainers, over the next few weeks.

There were certainly signs of improvement, in the showbiz industry, early last month, but then came the aurudu celebrations, both in Colombo, and the outstation, and we are all now experiencing the messy scene that has come out of it.

The band Aquarius had three weekly performances, but the guys are left with nothing at the moment.

Rajiv and The Clan were booked for quite a few weddings, for the month of May, and all of them have been postponed.

“I’m worried that some of the new dates may clash with the bookings I’ve already accepted for the months ahead, said Rajiv, adding that they have absolutely no work now

Kevin and his band Genesis have also had quite a few of their booking, for the month of May, cancelled.

Let’s hope when the scene improves, people will act with responsibility, especially those in charge of entertainment venues, and make certain that Covid-19 health guidelines are strictly adhered to.

And, the authorities concerned should go all out to nab those who deviate from the guidelines, and do their own thing.

 

 

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