Canada’s pandemic recovery: a partnership with India is key

Mar 3, 2021

In an op-ed piece in The National Post, Vijay Sappani argues for a strong Canada-India partnership to resolve Canada’s vaccine woes and for a strong post-pandemic recovery.

Though ties between Canada and India have been through several rocky patches in recent years, the phone call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, can and should serve as the turning point in the often-strained relationship.

The two leaders agreed to work together on access to COVID-19 vaccines and recognized the need for continued global co-ordination to respond to the pandemic. Since the two countries have more in common than they have differences, India is the perfect partner for Canada when it comes to recovering from the pandemic and realizing Canada’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Trudeau said that, “If the world managed to conquer COVID-19, it would be significantly because of India’s tremendous pharmaceutical capacity, and Prime Minister Modi’s leadership in sharing this capacity with the world.” He is right.

India’s strength in pharmaceutical manufacturing didn’t happen overnight. Over the years, India has invested tremendously in its pharmaceutical sector. It is the largest exporter of generic drugs in the world, accounting for 20 per cent of global manufacturing and 40 per cent of the generic drug market in the United States.

Similarly, on vaccines, India now accounts for 62 per cent of global production. Beyond its production capabilities, India’s track record in meeting global regulatory standards and transparency of data is another key factor. Brazil, which was initially planning to use China’s Sinovac vaccine, switched to using Indian-manufactured vaccines after concerns about safety and lack of transparency from China.

Many in the West don’t appreciate how the majority of the world’s population — that is to say, those who do not live in richer, Western countries — is at risk of not having access to vaccines in a timely manner. Luckily, India has risen to the challenge.

According to a report by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate 10 per cent of their citizens. That is because rich nations with just 14 per cent of the world’s population have bought up 53 per cent of the vaccine supply. At a time when the developed world has been hoarding vaccines, India has stepped up to provide free and low-cost vaccines to the developing world.

India has supplied over 36 million doses, mostly to the developing world. Of those, 6.7 million were provided on a grant basis. And in the early days of the pandemic, India also supplied acetaminophen and hydroxychloroquine to more than 60 countries, including Canada.

Canada should partner with India to ensure it has an adequate supply of drugs and other pharmaceuticals — in good times, as well as during emergencies such as this. We can better utilize taxpayer money and prepare for pandemics through a partnership with India that involves storage and annual insurance payments in exchange for priority production. This would reduce our risk of being stuck with expired goods and would provide us with priority access during crises.

Building bridges on the back of the COVID-19 vaccine would be the most effective way to repair and restart a relationship that has suffered far too many false starts and is constantly abandoned to serve domestic interests. Though a basic transactional relationship is functional, closer co-operation will help reap manifold benefits in both countries. Differences in domestic politics should not hold back closer co-operation between our like-minded democracies.

The pandemic has succeeded in bringing to light the importance of co-operation. Canada, for its part, should recognize the shared values that underpin India’s actions. The same values should guide Canada to strengthen ties with India and co-operate on future endeavours.

In an emerging new world order that involves dealing with a belligerent China, and Canada’s growing interest in Indo-Pacific region, it is in the mutual interests of Canada and India to see beyond the current irritants and develop a long-term strategic partnership.

National Post

Vijay Sappani is on the board of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a long-time pharmaceutical executive.