Astuto said the pandemic had shown how interconnected the world is, and the EU and India can help shape the global agenda for finding common responses.(AP)
Astuto said the pandemic had shown how interconnected the world is, and the EU and India can help shape the global agenda for finding common responses.(AP)

Oxygen key focus of support to India: EU envoy

“Oxygen is a major focus of our support, as requested by Indian authorities,” Astuto said in an interview, describing immediate and long-terms steps envisaged by the EU to help India cope with the massive surge in infections and to prepare for future pandemics.
By Rezaul H Laskar, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON APR 30, 2021 03:22 AM IST

Oxygen-related equipment is a major focus of the European Union’s efforts to support India’s Covid-19 response but vaccines need to be developed speedily and in sufficient quantities to decisively defeat the Coronavirus, EU ambassador Ugo Astuto said on Thursday.

Since the EU began coordinating efforts by member states to provide urgently needed materials and supplies on Sunday, France and Germany have announced major deliveries of oxygen, and equipment is arriving from Ireland (700 oxygen concentrators and an oxygen generator), Romania (80 oxygen concentrators and 75 cylinders), Luxembourg (58 ventilators), Portugal and Sweden.

“Oxygen is a major focus of our support, as requested by Indian authorities,” Astuto said in an interview, describing immediate and long-terms steps envisaged by the EU to help India cope with the massive surge in infections and to prepare for future pandemics.

“To prepare for the future, we need to draw lessons from the experience so far. It is clear that to defeat the virus decisively, we need to develop vaccines early and in sufficient quantities. We also need to strengthen the capacity of the international community to respond in a cohesive and consistent manner,” he said.

His remarks came against the backdrop of daily infections crossing well past the 300,000-mark for almost a week and hospitals across the country grappling with a severe shortage of oxygen.

Astuto said the pandemic had shown how interconnected the world is, and the EU and India can help shape the global agenda for finding common responses.

“We have to strengthen the multilateral tools we have already at our disposal, such as the WHO, and possibly think about new tools specifically targeted to pandemics, such as for instance an international treaty on pandemics,” he said.

Looking ahead to the virtual India-EU Summit to be held on May 8, Astuto said the two sides are preparing a EU-India Connectivity Partnership.

“At our summit in July 2020, we agreed to promote jointly a transparent, inclusive and rules-based approach to connectivity. We agreed that connectivity projects should be environmentally, socially and fiscally sustainable, providing a level playing field for businesses,” he said.

With a lot of focus on resumption of talks on a trade and investment pact, Astuto said the EU “would be ready to start exploring a standalone investment agreement, as we believe it would be in our mutual interest to establish a stable legal framework for investments, which would give a positive signal in both directions”.

He said: “Executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis and commerce minister Piyush Goyal met for talks in February and are about to meet again. They will discuss the perspective of trade and investment agreements, but also the wider economic agenda. There is significant scope for broader exchanges and cooperation on issues such as reform of WTO, security of supply chains [and] regulatory issues.”

With the EU recently unveiling a strategy to reinforce its presence in the Indo-Pacific, Astuto said the 27-member bloc “regards itself as a major stakeholder in this region and wants to work with like-minded partners, such as India”.

He said the Indo-Pacific is a crucial manufacturing hub, central to global value chains and at the forefront of the digital economy. “The region is also key for climate change and the environment...In many ways, the path of the future world will be set in the Indo-Pacific region,” he added.

The EU will develop its partnerships with India on foreign policy and security and defence, and this will include addressing challenges to maritime security, emerging and disruptive technologies, and countering terrorism or organised crime, he said.

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