Lessons from India's vaccine diplomacySunday, March 21, 2021
As European Union countries coalesce around vaccine nationalism with halts to usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine and blocks on exports, India has boldly stepped on to the world stage with 'vaccine diplomacy'. India has exported three times as many vaccine doses as it has given to its own people, including supplying 1.1 billion doses to the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVAX (COVID-19 Global Access) facility to poorer countries.
Today, India ranks in the top 15 countries for pharmaceutical exports. Indian pharmaceutical companies currently supply over 80 per cent of the world's AIDS antiretroviral drugs, and 20 per cent of all generic medicines. Even before the COVID-19 vaccine was developed, India supplied approximately 100 countries with hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol.
There's no denying that, with its core national capabilities, India was out the blocks early with its production of the AstraZeneca vaccine — an affordable vaccine that didn't require expensive storage. The Indian pharmaceutical sector, which was valued at US$64 billion in 2019, is now expected to grow to over US$150 billion by 2025.
Is the EU's halting the use of AstraZeneca a 'payback' to the UK for Brexit, or is this major trading bloc just preventing India (now a global pharmaceutical titan in foreign trade) from taking centre stage?
The answer is less important, it's the global focus on India which is.
Let's remember that after India's Independence in 1947 its first prime minister set in motion a broad vision for innovations in science and technology to shape the economy for future growth. Fifty years later, 25 per cent of India's population with the highest IQ was greater than the total population of children living in the USA. India had more children receiving academic honours than the United States had children.
It leaders had a vision for the people and pursued a strategic path that's paying strong dividends, not only for gross domestic product (GDP), but for the global good. What we are witnessing today isn't by accident or luck. India has used the pandemic and made some big moves to globally reposition itself, while forging new friendships with cooperation and sharing, thereby anchoring bilateral relationships with poorer, developing nations.
What will our move be coming out of COVID-19? How will Jamaica reposition out of this pandemic for economic growth?
Diversifying our economic base
Three years ago, we gave proposals to incentivise the diversification of our economic base towards health tourism, cultural services, and, yes, agro industries. A national ganja lab was one of those suggestions.
Here we are again; another budget, same forecast. The majority of money in our budgets is being spent on salaries and travel and hardly any on production or stimuli. These old methods aren't working.
The ravages to the economy from COVID-19 emphasise the need to stimulate and diversify our economic base now more than ever. We already have a world market for Jamaican Scotch bonnet pepper and ganja. What we don't have is a national processing facility to which small farmers can bring their produce for processing to the value-added products the world needs.
Achieving this efficiency would allow us to move up the supply chain into even more specialised markets towards producing more value-added products at premium prices. So, let me say it again: Let's build a national agro-processing facility. Let's list it on the Jamaica Stock Exchange and seed it with capital. Let's appoint competent management to run the place and then divest it to our Jamaican shareholders (similar to the Wigton Windfarm model).
We can no longer afford to fail at maximising Brand Jamaica. Strengthening our core value chain must be our urgent priority or the rest of the world will continue to imitate us without flattery, royalties, or economic benefit to us.
In a world of free trade we must establish niche markets. The countries that have created true wealth for their people are the ones that have developed their exports in both goods and services. Jamaica will never create true prosperity for our three million people by just selling to our three million people. We have these competitive advantages in value-added pepper, ginger, and ganja products.
The fact that in 2019 rum represented 79 per cent of our manufactured exports earnings, according to Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) 2019 data, while our traditional exports — sugar, alumina, bauxite, banana, coffee, mining and quarrying — have remained the same or declined for decades blatantly shows that we're undersupplying our export opportunities, illustrated by the US demand for pepper which exceeds US$1 billion.
Global vision to reposition
In 1977 Prime Minister Michael Manley created the Jamaica Export Trading Company (JETCO) with the purpose of driving agricultural exports. The Ministry of Trade began exporting to 32 countries under the chairmanship of Peter King and Managing Director Ainsley Henriques. Our ginger became the base for ginger ale, our pimento exports accounted for 90 per cent of the world market, our export of ortaniques under JETCO commanded the highest prices for citrus in Europe.
Jamaica was asked by the president of Mexico to sell their pimento production and CUBAFRUTAS requested we sell their citrus. This success allowed JETCO to negotiate our own freight rates for shipping and Hapag-Lloyd offered to put refer stations on Kingston's wharves for our exclusive use.
The world is radically different since the 1970s, and we need innovative and agile policies to manoeuvre established trading blocs to carve out niche and value-added agro-processing markets for ourselves.
Moving forward we should be laser-focused and provide support to agricultural products which have export markets and value-added potential. Our pepper, ginger, mango, cocoa, coffee, ackee, papaya, romaine lettuce, avocados, Sea Island cotton, organic beef, and chicken could give us the best global competitive advantage because of our unique Jamaican taste profile.
We have the resources to do better. We need a different focus, rather than the simplistic import substitution policy, with a different set of agriculture objectives ensuring that efficient farmers make a good standard of living, guaranteed prices for farmers on priority crops, support for export agriculture and value-added products, lower food prices for Jamaicans, and building a school-feeding programme to maximise the use of local produce.
Let us use objective economic criteria to determine the crops we focus on and drive them. Our economies of scale and terrain won't allow us to be globally competitive in every product. Therefore, we must have selection criteria for their justification.
By ignoring the export market, ordinary Jamaicans, especially our small farmers, are driven further and further away from prosperity. This is why over the last 50 years Jamaicans' per capita income has been almost stagnant.
India strategically positioned itself in the world as a dominant leader in pharmaceuticals. Jamaica must commence a process of strategic global repositioning based on a 'foresighting' of global opportunities and a careful analysis of the goods and services in which we have or can develop a sustained competitive advantage in a rapidly changing world.
We must train our people with the skill sets and give them the incentives on the tools of trade so they can invest in these niches. The global ganja/cannabis and pepper sauce markets are expected to reach US$97.3 billion and US$3.77 billion, respectively, by the end of 2026. To succeed in exporting any one of these products at even a one per cent world market share would transform Jamaica to the country for which we all yearn.
Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.
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