USAID chief to visit India, discuss food security challenges, COVID relief

USAID chief to visit India, discuss food security challenges, COVID relief

Thorny issues like Indian wheat export ban and indemnity issues for U.S. vaccines may be raised

Days after calling for grain-exporting countries to step up efforts to avoid a hunger crisis, USAID Administrator Samantha Power will arrive in India on a three-day visit on Monday to discuss global food security and other issues with the government, as well as with climate change and agricultural experts.

Announcing the visit, the U.S. development aid agency said that Ms. Power would “participate in meetings and events demonstrating U.S. commitment to partnering with India, the world’s largest democracy, as a global development leader in addressing some of the world’s most pressing development challenges, such as addressing the global food security crisis, tackling the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporting countries in need,” during the visit from July 25 to 27.

The visit indicates growing U.S. concern over the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, which has severely restricted global wheat supplies from a region called the “bread basket” of the world. On Friday, after weeks of negotiations following an intervention by UN chief Antonio Guterres, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and visits to Kyiv and Moscow by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed to a deal that would free up Ukrainian wheat parked in the Black Sea, as well as allow Russian wheat and fertilizer exports.

At an event in Washington this week, Ms. Power, who served as former U.S. President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and as a special assistant on human rights, said that the Russian war in Ukraine could lead to an extra 40 million people worldwide facing food shortages.

“We need other countries to look beyond their approved budgets — to address the current gaps in assistance, especially those who might have more space to do so given the returns they are receiving from high commodity prices,” she said, indicating other grain exporters. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a speech in April 2022, promised that India could “feed the world”, and the government made plans to export 10 million tonnes of wheat, sending trade delegations to at least nine countries to offer exports, it decided to clamp down on wheat, wheat flour, onion seed exports in May, after anticipating domestic shortages, and in the face of global price speculation. The move was criticised at the WTO ministerial meeting in June this year by a number of Western countries.

Defending the move at the United Nations Security Council special session on July 18, India said that it had taken the measures to curtail food exports so as to support domestic needs and those of neighbouring and other “vulnerable developing countries” like Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Yemen.

“The Indian government has recognised the sudden spike in global prices of wheat, which put our food security and those of our neighbours and other vulnerable countries at risk,” Indian diplomat Sneha Dubey said on Monday, adding, “Open markets must not become an argument to perpetuate inequity and promote discrimination.”

Apart from the food security situation, Ms. Power may also raise the issue over American vaccines receiving clearances in India, given that U.S.-made mRNA vaccine companies such as Pfizer and Moderna have not received indemnity waivers, as they had wanted from the Indian government. Last year, a shipment of Moderna vaccines bound for India from the U.S. aid agency had to be held back given the legal hurdles, and the issue has cast a shadow over a U.S.-led Quad initiative to manufacture Johnson and Johnson vaccines at a plant in Hyderabad.

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