United States President Joe Biden is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting with his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday to include “cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in Southern Mexico and Central America, COVID-19 recovery, and economic cooperation”, according to a White House statement.
Speaking during his daily news conference on Monday, Lopez Obrador said the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 185,000 Mexicans – the third-highest death toll in the world, is going to be the main focus.
“What we are after is maintain a relationship of cooperation and friendship – a policy of good neighbourliness,” he said. “Therefore the topics [of the meeting] are COVID, that’s important to us, and above all else, the vaccine.”
Citing an unnamed Mexican official, Reuters news agency reported on Sunday that Lopez Obrador is expected to ask Biden to share its vaccination supply with Mexico.
According to the report, Lopez Obrador will ask the US for a loan of its vaccine supplies, to be paid back when Mexico receives deliveries of vaccines it has contracts for, expected to arrive later in the year.
On Monday, Lopez Obrador alluded that he had already made the request, without citing when. On January 30, Mexican media outlet Proceso reported that Lopez Obrador had asked Biden for vaccines during a phone call, shortly after Biden took office.
“We want to receive a response about a request that we made,” Lopez Obrador said in response to a journalist’s question on Monday, “and if President Biden would consider it, that he could give us a response about vaccination during our meeting.”
White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that President Biden is not considering loaning Mexico vaccines.
“The President has made clear that he is focused on ensuring that vaccines are accessible to every American,” she said.
When that has been achieved, Psaki said “we’re happy to discuss further steps beyond that.”
So far, Mexico has received Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines which it has used to inoculate some of its front-line workers and the elderly.
Mexico has an agreement to produce and package 35 million doses of China’s CanSino vaccine this year. The first batch of two million doses will be ready in the second half of this month, the company said on Sunday.
And the vaccination campaign which was rolled out in late December has been beset by delayed shipments from Pfizer, which Mexico had initially relied on as its main source, forcing the country to scramble to fill the gap from other drugmakers.
According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data, 1.9 million Mexicans have been vaccinated, below 2 percent of the population, nearly 130 million, regionally lagging behind Brazil and Chile, and well behind the US.
An unnamed US official told Reuters that although Biden is focused on “getting jabs in the arms” of Americans, the US acknowledges the need to assist its neighbours – since national borders cannot seal it off from the pandemic.
With the US vaccination campaign currently steady but still well short of being able to fully reopen the economy, it appears unlikely that Biden would be able to share the US supply with other nations.
Adding to Mexico’s pandemic woes, the nation’s coronavirus tsar has been hospitalised last week after contracting COVID-19.
Hugo Lopez-Gatell, a Lopez Obrador ally, was taken to the hospital after suffering from “moderate” symptoms and required oxygen, a health official said. In a news conference on Sunday Ruy Lopez Ridaura, the country’s director of disease prevention and control, said Lopez-Gatell was “recovering well”.
Lopez Obrador said Monday’s meeting with Biden will also address immigration, security, climate change and the trade deal between the US, Canada and Mexico.
Mexico had a tense relationship with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
But Lopez Obrador, a left-wing leader, still managed to forge a mutually beneficial partnership with Trump, including agreeing to stem immigration from Central America to the US-Mexico border.
Since taking office on January 20, Biden has been undoing Trump-era immigration policies including the building of a border wall along the US southern border, limiting asylum into the US and accelerating deportations.