News: the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron, a SARS-CoV-2 variant, as a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC). The Omicron variant, which was first confirmed in Botswana has now been confirmed in South Africa, Botswana, the U.K., Germany, Italy and travellers into the Netherlands and Israel.
About Omicron Variant:
Mutations: It reportedly has over 50 mutations, 32 of which are on the spike protein, which binds to human cells and is the preferred target for vaccines.
Resistance to m-RNA vaccines: Several of the mutations confer the virus resistance to monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) such as etesevimab, bamlanivimab, casirivimab and their combinations. However, it is important to emphasise that every single mutation does not independently increase virulence and combinations of them might sometimes temper, and sometimes aggravate, virus properties.
Testing: It is detectable by RT-PCR test.
Virulence: The virus has been detected in comparable numbers only in South Africa’s Gauteng province, but the variant comprises over 90% of the fraction of genomes from those who tested positive there within just 10 days. The possibility of a new, more transmissible variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has, of course, been the principal worry of epidemiologists.
Problems of Breakthrough infections & decay of vaccine immunity:
Vaccine-derived protection against symptomatic infection is expected to decay with time.
Vaccine still important: Current research suggests that breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated individuals are reduced in intensity and duration, compared to cases in individuals who have not been vaccinated.
WHO has recommended studies to understand the degree to which the immune system is evaded by the Omicron variant. This is a key question for India given the high proportion of individuals with some level of immunity, mostly from infection. If these mutations do lead to greater immune escape, vaccines and treatments like monoclonal antibodies might need to be reformulated.
Reasons for low number of cases in India:
Seroprevalence studies indicate that a large proportion of the population has already been exposed to the virus providing some level of protection to subsequent infections.
The immunisation campaign has gained momentum. Approximately 44% of Indian adults have been fully vaccinated and 82%have received at least one dose. What is more, scientists believe that prior infection followed by one or two doses of vaccination may have a larger protective effect than two doses of the vaccination alone.
Solutions available to the countries:
Travel ban on South Africa: Some nations have already imposed travel bans on flights from South Africa.
Alternatives of ban -testing, isolation & treatment: Given that Omicron is a variant of the virus that can be detected by the PCR test, these countries, rather than imposing a ban, should have taken the more considered step of screening passengers and followed the usual protocols of isolation and treatment.
Argument against travel ban: Detecting a variant in a country does not imply it originated there. Travel bans punish South Africa for its transparency and forthrightness in alerting the world to this variant.
Vaccination is the most effective solution: From day one, the science was clear cut that the pandemic cannot end unless the whole world is protected.
Herd immunity: It is the only possible way to stop the transmission and slow down the virus. This would prevent it the chance to mutate rapidly. This is possible only if vaccination drives are performed on a global scale.
Africa was expected to be the next hotspot: A little over 10% in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64% in North America and 62% in Europe.
It’s a common responsibility of the world: The panic over the variant shifts blame away from the world’s colossal failure in not making more vaccines available in Africa even as many countries roll out third doses.
COVAX initiative: India must scale up supplies to COVAX, the international consortium seeking to vaccinate countries with limited access, as well as coax countries with surplus stocks to do so. India has done well so far to adhere to this system and observing caution.
About COVAX initiative:
COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or GAVI), the World Health Organization (WHO).
COVAX is a United Nations-backed initiative in which vaccines are delivered by UNICEF.
It is not a vaccine itself, COVAX uses vaccines provide by various companies and administers them in Least developed countries.
Conclusion: It is a global responsibility to vaccinate the world so that the continuous influx of mutation stops. Until this happens there would be a continued possibility of those mutation on which vaccine may not provide immunity.
About India Pak Economic relations: It has been in shambles in the past few years
Most favoured nation(MFN) status was granted to Pakistan in 1996 and suspended after 2019 Pathankot attack. However, Pakistan has never granted this status to India even once ever.
Post-Pathankot attack: After the Pulwama terror attack, bilateral trade between both countries plummeted from $2 billion in 2017-18 to a paltry $280 million in 2020-21.
Trade Potential: $2.5bn bilateral trade despite a potential of $37bn according to a World Bank report. India exports Pharmaceutical and other surgical instruments.
Recently Pakistan rejected the proposal to import cotton, yarn, and sugar from India which could have been a good start.
Trade through 3rd party: India and Pakistan do rarely trade directly. Most of the trade such as vegetables is rerouted through UAE, incurring huge logistics costs.
The recent partial opening of land borders between India & Pakistan signals a thaw in between their troubled relations.
It is the right time for both sides to capitalize on the moment & normalize their imperiled trade relations.
From the Indian side, a continuing freeze in relations with Pakistan will enhance India’s external vulnerability to other actors like China.
Since India-Pak relations will remain adversarial for the foreseeable future, its effective management should be the main objective of fostering economic & trade relations.
Normalization of trade relations would require the following steps:
Softening of stance: Primarily, Pakistan needs to revoke the unilateral suspension of trade with India undertaken in August 2019 due to India’s decision to dilute Article 370, because this trade suspension by Pakistan is inconsistent with the GATT & SAFTA agreement on the ground that a member country disapproves of another member country's domestic law.
Pakistan also needs to reverse its practice of not according the MFN status to India.
Most Favoured Nation is a principle of non-discrimination in trade given in Article 1 of GATT.
Since the formation of WTO, Pak is in breach of Article 1 of GATT towards India.
India should restore Pak’s MFN status that it revoked after the Pulwama attack by hiking the tariff rates on all Pak imports to an unfeasible rate of 200%. India needs to use the International legal arena to make Pak reciprocate to restore trade ties to normal.
Finally, both nations should dust off the GATT rule book & read Article XXIV.
This allows both India & Pak to enter into any special trading arrangements without fully complying to GATT conditions that typically apply FTAs.
This merciful rule that only India & Pak enjoy was incorporated in GATT to enable the both sides to overcome the economic hardships caused by Partition.
Conclusion: Business enhances the P2P relations as well as the B2B relations. This might be the most essential first step to revive the Indo-Pak relations.
Context: Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said that the Centre would table the bill to repeal its three contentious farm laws “on the very first day” of the Parliament’s winter session. However now, the pressure is mounting on the Modi government to implement the legal guarantee for the minimum support prices (MSP) of crops.
About Minimum Support Price(MSP)
It is a scheme designed for price assurance on farm produce.
Crops included - It is now applicable on 23 farm commodities:
7 cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, bajra, jowar, ragi and barley),
5 pulses (chana, arhar, moong, urad and masur),
7 oilseeds (groundnut, soyabean, rapeseed-mustard, sesamum, sunflower, nigerseed and safflower) and
4 commercial crops (sugarcane, cotton, copra and raw jute).
It is valued at 50% over the cost of raw material: While the MSPs technically ensure a minimum 50% return on all cultivation costs, these are largely on paper.
The Problem in gaining this price:
In most crops grown across much of India, the prices received by farmers, especially during harvest time, are well below the officially-declared MSPs.
And since MSPs have no statutory backing, they cannot demand these as a matter of right.
The unions want the Modi government to enact legislation conferring mandatory status to MSP, rather than just being an indicative or desired price.
Possibility of the MSP law - There are basically three ways:
By forcing private traders or processors to pay MSP. This is already applicable in sugarcane. Sugar mills are required, by law, to pay farmers the Centre’s “fair and remunerative price” for cane, with some state governments fixing even higher so-called “advised prices”.
The Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966 issued under the Essential Commodities Act, moreover, obliges payment of this legally-guaranteed price within 14 days of cane purchase.
During the 2020-21 sugar year (October-September), mills crushed some 298 million tonnes (mt) of cane, which, the accompanying table shows, was close to three-fourths of the country’s estimated total production of 399 mt.
Government undertaking procurement at MSP through its agencies such as the Food Corporation of India (FCI), National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed) and Cotton Corporation of India (CCI).
As can be seen from the table, such purchases accounted for nearly 50% of India’s rice/paddy production last year, while amounting to 40% for wheat and over 25% in cotton.
Government agencies also bought significant quantities – upwards of 0.1 mt – of chana (chickpea), mustard, groundnut, tur (pigeon-pea) and moong (green gram) during 2019-20.
However, Procurement of these crops, however, fell in 2020-21.
In livestock and horticultural produce – be it milk, eggs, onions, potatoes or apples – there is no MSP even on paper! The 23 MSP crops together, in turn, account for hardly a third of the total value of India’s agricultural output, excluding forestry and fishing.
Further it creates a huge fiscal demand.
Guaranteeing MSP is via price deficiency payments: Government neither directly purchases nor forces the private industry to pay MSP. Instead, it allows all sales by farmers to take place at the prevailing market prices. Farmers are simply paid the difference between the government’s MSP and the average market price for the particular crop during the harvesting season.
The Problem of MSP:
Fiscal stress & lack of economic foresightedness – It takes above ₹1L cr to run the MSP scheme every year.
Inflationary Pressure: MSP acts as a benchmark for the market; it often is aimed to push the market prices higher.
Monopoly and corruption: The mechanism of procurement using agents or Arahtias, brings in corruption killing the competition and reducing system efficiency.
Market distortion: output is exceeding well beyond market demand. It is difficult for the Small farmers to sustain.
Flawed Arithmetic: The MSP announced by government at 50% premium of A2 + CL cost but farmers demand it at 1.5 times of C2 according to Swaminathan commission.
Lack of procurement machinery: Only minimal amount of others crops are procured due to lack of capacity.
Doesn't cover risk premium/C3 Costs: C2+ 10% managerial costs[Recommended by Ramesh Chand Committee]To account for risk premium and managerial charges.
Conclusion: The MSP value of the total output of all the 23 notified crops worked out to about Rs 11.9 lakh crore in 2020-21. It leads of huge fiscal deficit and thus would be difficult to implement.