Covid-19 has revealed globalisation’s many fault lines, as also silver linings. The direction globalisation takes will be shaped by the pandemic as it progresses.
As India reels under Covid-19 Pandemic registering tens of thousands of cases in May 2021, many Western Nations have overcome the onslaught of Covid-19, even if the reprieve is just temporary. The United Kingdom has significantly lowered its infection rate, using vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Astra Zeneca. Similarly, the U.S. has vaccinated more than 40 percent of its population. As of now, the U.S. also has a significant number of surplus vaccines from AstraZeneca. In a shocking statement on Thursday, the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department said “It’s, of course, not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated, it is in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated.” This statement indicates that the interests of the American Nation will be met first and the issues of humanity and assisting other nations in times of pandemic can be put aside. The temporary American embargo on exporting vaccine raw materials in the first quarter of 2021 only serves to underscore the point.
The kind of responses we are witnessing from leading countries such as the U.S. and Germany (such as Angela Merkel not pleased with India leading the Pharmaceutical Industry) brings us to the key issue in a multipolar world: the Limits of Globalisation. ‘Globalisation’ as an idea has been hailed by many of the former Presidents of the U.S., such as Barack Obama. It can also be categorized as a tool that has been used by the US along with Western Nations to strengthen their hold over other nations (especially developing ones). It is also seen as a ‘liberating force’ offering people more choices in every sector. However, as many of us have noticed, this trend changed significantly after the election of Donald Trump. The primary reason for Trump’s election to the Presidency was that the U.S. did not care for its populace but was ‘busy’ handling the affairs of the world. The poor handling of the Covid-19 Crisis by former U.S. President Donald Trump was one of the biggest factors that cost him the seat of the White House in 2020. President Joe Biden is aware of this fact. However, the conditions in the U.S. have improved significantly and then ongoing embargo on the export of raw materials needs to be lifted so that vaccines can be manufactured at a much faster pace in developing nations. By lifting the embargo, the U.S. will earn goodwill in India and help it fight Covid-19. This step will also help the U.S. lead in the battle of narratives where it is seen moving ‘more inwards’ and 'caring' less for the world. Similarly, when India was hit with a disastrous shortage of oxygen, nations the world over appreciated India’s large-hearted role in the global fight against Covid-19, and medical aid poured in.
Recently, India and South Africa had mooted a joint proposal, which demanded the waiving of intellectual property rights related to Covid-19 vaccines. This proposal has put India and South Africa at loggerheads with developed nations such as the U.S., Canada, U.K., while others remain ambiguous in their stance. These developed nations feel that ‘innovation’ must be encouraged and downgrading of intellectual property rights is not a solution to meeting the challenges of solving the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the argument from the other side seems to be convincing at this juncture. More than ‘innovation’, what is required is the manufacturing of vaccines at an optimum pace to bring down the number of Covid-19 cases. The result of sharing intellectual property rights with pharmaceutical industries of developing nations will result in reducing not only Covid-19 cases, but also quick recovery of the nation’s economy, helping people sustain their livelihoods.
The advent of Covid -19 has made us realize that severe fault lines are running in today’s ‘Globalised world’. India demonstrated immense generosity in giving vaccines to the rest of the world, which included developed nations such as Canada. As she suffers from a second wave, the response of the leading nations in helping India in its fight against Covid-19 will give us a glimpse of the future trajectory of ‘Globalisation’.
(Sidharth Chaturvedi is a 1st year student of B.A. LL.B. the Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)