The mystery behind India’s stance on HCQ: analysis
On April 7, the official spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MEA) “discouraged” speculation or politicization, Among others, of the government’s decision to allow exports of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol through licenses.
Specifically, he said, “With respect to paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine, they will remain in an authorized category and their demand position will be continuously monitored. However, their stock position could allow our companies to meet their export commitments. “
The spokesperson also clarified that “temporary restrictions were applied to exports of a number of pharmaceuticals” to ensure that there were “adequate stocks” of these products “for the requirement of our own people.” Following these constraints, a “comprehensive assessment of all possible requirements in different scenarios” was conducted. The spokesperson emphasized that the decision to export drugs was made “after confirming the availability of drugs for all possible contingencies …”.
This statement is reassuring, but would have been more reassuring if supported by statistics of current and projected HCQ requirements, availability, proposed export, production capacity, and whether active ingredients are needed for China. This is particularly due to fears that India made the decision under pressure from the United States (US).
Currently, HCQ is allowed to be used in India as a prophylactic for front-line health workers in the fight against Covid-19 and domestic contacts of laboratory confirmed cases.
Misinformed criticism of government decisions should always be avoided, particularly in these difficult times. However, an examination of the timing of the HCQ’s decision cannot be speculative or politicized.
Government documents are revealing regarding HCQ decisions.
On March 25, the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) banned the export of HCQ by formal notification. However, despite the ban, according to the notification, Indian pharmaceutical companies were allowed to fulfill their existing HCQ export contracts. Exports could also be for “humanitarian reasons, on a case-by-case basis, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
On April 4, the DGFT issued another notification on HCQ exports in which it removed the exceptions to the HCQ export ban in its notification of March 25. Clarifying the effect of this step, the April 4 notification stated: “The export of hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from hydroxychloroquine will therefore remain prohibited, without exception.”
On April 4, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, called Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The same day, at a press conference, after the call, Trump said: “I called Prime Minister Modi of India this morning. They produce large amounts of hydroxychloroquine … And I said they had a hold … And I said I’d appreciate it if they released the amounts that we asked for. And they are seriously considering it. ”
The statement by the Ministry of External Affairs from the Modi-Trump phone conversation did not mention Trump’s request. However, he did point out: “By emphasizing the special relationship between the two countries, the Prime Minister reiterated India’s solidarity with the United States to overcome this global crisis together. The two leaders agreed to deploy the full strength of the India-United States association to combat Covid-19 with resolution and efficiency. “
At a press conference on April 6, Jonathan Karl, White House correspondent for ABC News, asked Trump: “Are you concerned about retaliation for your ban on medical products, such as Indian Prime Minister Modi’s decision not to export hydroxychloroquine to the United States and other countries? sic)? ” The question was asked in the context of Trump’s April 3 decision not to allow U.S. companies to export the personal protective equipment required by healthcare workers caring for patients affected by Covid-19. Canada was particularly enraged by the decision.
In a rambling response, Trump made several points, some of which require interpretation: that he disliked India’s decision to ban HCQ exports to the United States; that he had not heard that Modi had personally made the decision for the United States; that he knew that Modi had detained him for other countries; that he had a good conversation with Modi (comment: but he was wrong on the day of the conversation by mentioning Sunday, although the conversation happened on Saturday); he would be surprised if Modi did not accept his request, because India has for many years taken advantage of the United States in trade. In concluding his comments, he said there may be retaliation.
Obviously, this is an indication that other countries may retaliate against their export ban on medical products.
On April 6, the Indian government decided to set aside its April 4 HCQ decision and revert to some aspects of the March 25 notification. The real problem is the basis on which the government changed its mind. Did the concerned authorities not fully analyze the HCQ situation before making the April 4 decision? If they did, why did the government adopt a different opinion on April 6? The Foreign Ministry needs clarification to avoid speculation that India was under pressure from Trump when he himself has banned the export of essential medical products.
Vivek Katju is a retired diplomat.
The opinions expressed are personal.