Covid-19: India Calls For Global Framework For Easier Movement Of Health Workers

NEW DELHI: India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal has urged the international community to create a framework for improving affordable access to medicines and facilitating easier movement of health professionals across national borders to effectively fight the covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a meeting of G-20 trade ministers on Monday via video-conferencing, Goyal said such unprecedented challenges necessitate innovative, collaborative and proactive response from the world.

We must ensure that the supply of goods, and services most importantly that of vital medicines and food products are not disrupted consistent with national needs. Trade facilitative responses need to be in place, and wherever required, by doing away temporarily, the requirements by authorities like customs, banks of producing original documents by importers for various clearances. Additionally, we need to think of a suitable framework under which critical pharma products, medical devices, diagnostic equipment and kits and healthcare professionals can be deployed at short notice across territories under a pre-agreed protocol,” Goyal said.

India last week urged its FTA (free trade agreement) partners to allow import of goods without certificate of origin for the time being as local authorities are unable to issue the document due to the lockdown in the country.

Goyal said despite many challenges, India has been a dependable and affordable source of efficacious and high quality medical and pharma products to nearly 190 countries around the world. “We are confident that with improved regulatory and R&D cooperation, India can further enhance its capabilities to serve the world in crisis like this. We must ensure that suitable instruments stay in place to address these inabilities and preserve the life, livelihood, food and nutritional security of the poorest,” he added.

India has put in place export restrictions on vital medical supplies such as ventilators, masks, sanitisers to meet growing demands within the country.

The G-20, under its current chair Saudi Arab, in a joint statement said members are working to ensure smooth flow of vital medical supplies and equipment, critical agricultural products, and other essential goods and services across borders, for supporting the health of citizens. “Consistent with national requirements, we will take immediate necessary measures to facilitate trade in those essential goods. We will guard against profiteering and unjustified price increases,” the joint statement said.

Members of the G-20 also agreed that emergency measures designed to tackle covid-19, if deemed necessary, must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and it should be ensured that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and are consistent with WTO rules. “We will implement those measures upholding the principle of international solidarity, considering the evolving needs of other countries for emergency supplies and humanitarian assistance,” the statement added.

World Bank managing director Mari Pangetsu, speaking at the meeting, urged members to refrain from new export restrictions on critical medical supplies, food or other key products. Pangetsu asked G-20 countries to eliminate or reduce tariffs on imports of covid-19 products, as well as lower or suspend tariffs and export taxes on food and other basic goods to safeguard household incomes and business activity. “Many countries tax their own health care systems and hamper the response by imposing tariffs on imports of key covid-19 products. Applied tariffs on these products are below 4% in advanced economies, above 8% in developing economies and exceed 11% in least developed economies,” he said.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer highlighted that the US is encouraging diversification of supply chains and seeking to promote more manufacturing at home. “Unfortunately, like others, we are learning in this crisis that over-dependence on other countries as a source of cheap medical products and supplies has created a strategic vulnerability to our economy,” he said.

World Trade Organization director general Roberto Azevedo said only a few countries can not produce all the medical supplies, food, and energy they need. “Closing borders would be particularly harmful to people in the many developing countries that rely on imports for sophisticated medical equipment,” he added.-Livemint

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