By Mahua Venkatesh
New Delhi, Aug 10: As the 55-member African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) – touted as the biggest deal since the World Trade Organisation-- gets shape, the authorities are keen to push forward an agreement seeking enhanced collaboration and partnership with India in the field of affordable medicine and vaccine production.
Though India is currently focused on delivering Covid 19 vaccines to its own citizens, several countries are pushing New Delhi to resume exports of the jabs, which are priced more competitively compared to other vaccines.
As the Covid 19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of availability of affordable medicines and vaccines, the role of India, as the world's largest vaccine manufacturer would be enhanced, especially at a time when vaccine protectionism has become a major challenge.
"However, India must move fast to ensure that it does not lose out on an opportunity. It needs to leverage its strength and position as a global leader in this area," an industry source said.
Foreign policy watchers said India is looking to ink a comprehensive deal with the AfCFTA which is aimed at creating a single market comprising 1.3 billion people with a combined GDP of about $3.4 trillion.
Speaking exclusively to India Narrative, David Ong'olo former chairman, Competition Authority of Kenya said that the immediate agenda for AfCFTA should be the issue of affordable medicine and vaccine production.
"I feel India can play a big role in this. The country is already the largest vaccine manufacturer, going ahead we need to look at ways by which India can also collaborate in investing in setting up vaccine manufacturing facilities in various countries in Africa," Ong'olo said, adding that India and Africa have traditionally shared "very cordial trade" relations.
While many countries produce vaccines, not all of them have been exporting.
The pricing strategy of the vaccines developed by the rich nations—home to Big Pharma has also caused concerns for many nations.
Covid 19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna are high priced and most developing and poorer nations will not be able to afford the jabs, essentially leading to an overdependence of the drugs made in India.
For Africa, the most critical issue at this point is to provide vaccines for all its people.
A press statement released in July after the 16th CII-Exim Bank Digital Conclave on India Africa partnership, said that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided the impetus for a stronger partnership between the two with potential benefits to both as they build back sustainably after the crisis.
Energy and geopolitical expert Narendra Taneja, earlier told India Narrative that India should be looking at Africa from three different angles.
"Africa is a very important continent, not only for India, (but) for the whole world. I mean, I have also said that, you know, this century people keep saying that this is (an) Asian century. And I always argue this is Africa's century… because by 2050 India, China, all of these countries will peak and they will need Africa, the market, in order to sustain their growth and prosperity," he said.
India has already increased its engagements with Africa.
In June, foreign minister S Jaishankar visited Kenya. Soon after, in the first week of July, Ministry of External Affairs secretary (Economic Relations) Rahul Chhabra visited Ghana's capital Accra, which is the headquarter of the AfCFTA.
"India has increased its economic activities in Africa, its investments have risen significantly in the last few years but now New Delhi must work out a mechanism with the AfCFTA to be able to expand bilateral trade further," Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International told India Narrative.
Modi's focus on Africa
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, soon after he assumed office in 2014, outlined his Africa strategy. In 2015, a mega India Africa summit was held in New Delhi, which was attended by 54 nations. Modi said that Africa will remain at the centre of India's attention.
"We will work with you to realize your vision of a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth, empowered citizens and sustainable development; an integrated and culturally vibrant Africa; and, a peaceful and secure Africa, which has its rightful global place and is a strong partner for the world," he said in his address.
According to a report published by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) the AfCFTA provides a number of opportunities for the Indian firms and investors to tap into a larger, unified, simplified and more robust African market. "It is critical for India to view Africa not just as a destination for short-term returns but as a partner for medium and long-term economic growth," the report said.