Serum Institute of India to invest in the UK

London, United Kingdom: The Serum Institute of India, which manufactures vaccines, plans to invest in facilities in the UK and may also produce inoculations there in the future, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday.

According to Johnson's Downing Street office, the £240 million ($334 million) project will include a sales office, "clinical trials, research and development and possibly manufacturing of vaccines".

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer in terms of volume, and it has been at the forefront of developing the lower-cost AstraZeneca coronavirus shot.

SII has also started phase one trials of a coronavirus nasal vaccine in the United Kingdom.

Downing Street stated that the vaccine maker's plans were part of a larger package of trade and investment agreements with India worth £1 billion, which it expects to generate over 6,500 jobs.

It was revealed ahead of Johnson's virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.

Covid help 

With its large population and rising economy, India has been at the top of London's list of trade agreement priorities since the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union last year.

However, a surge in Covid-19 cases has strained the health system there, prompting Johnson to cancel a scheduled visit this month.

Prior to the current surge, India was exporting tens of millions of SII-manufactured AstraZeneca shots through the Covax system, which supplied poorer countries.

Last month, New Delhi halted exports, including to Covax, in order to prioritize vaccines at home.

SII produces 60-70 million AstraZeneca doses per month, with a goal of reaching 100 million by July.

With 1.3 billion inhabitants, India has become the pandemic's new hotspot, even as richer countries take measures toward normalcy by speeding up vaccination programs.

Britain announced on Sunday that it was sending an additional 1,000 oxygen ventilators to India, after previously sending 495 oxygen concentrators, 200 ventilators, and three larger manufacturing units known as oxygen factories.

SII, headquartered in Pune, southeast of Mumbai, is a cutting-edge manufacturing facility led by 40-year-old chief executive Adar Poonawalla, a scion of an estimated £11 billion pharmaceutical dynasty.

Poonawalla drew criticism for traveling to London just as Britain put India on a red list of banned countries, as infection rates and deaths in India skyrocketed.

In an interview published on Saturday, he told The Times that he had come to Britain with his wife and children because high-ranking Indians were pushing him to give them jabs first.

"'Threats' is an understatement," he said -- although he has since announced he is heading back to India.

Free trade agreement?

Johnson's government is shifting its foreign policy targets to the Asia-Pacific region as part of a post-Brexit "Global Britain" strategy, signing trade agreements with countries such as Japan and Singapore.

The most recent "Enhanced Trade Partnership" announcement with India involves lower trade barriers for certain UK exports, including fruit and medical devices.

However, there are indications that India could be hesitant to sign a more comprehensive trade agreement, as Modi promotes the "Made in India" and "Self-Reliant India" agendas.

Last year, he abruptly backed out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement among 15 Asia-Pacific nations, citing concerns that New Delhi's agriculture, dairy, and services sectors will suffer as a result.

Despite his friendly links with Modi, former US President Donald Trump referred to India as the "tariff king" for its duties on imported products, stymieing trade talks.

Talks on a free-trade agreement between India and the EU are set to start later this month, eight years after 16 rounds of talks broke down in deadlock.

Trade talks with Canada are also expected to resume shortly after a four-year hiatus.

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