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WASHINGTON, March 2 ― The Biden administration yesterday downplayed the prospect of sharing coronavirus vaccines with Mexico, saying it is focused first on getting its own population protected against a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
The remarks by White House press secretary Jen Psaki came before a video conference between Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and US President Joe Biden, in which the Mexican leader was expected to ask the United States to consider sharing some of its Covid-19 vaccine supply.
“The administration's focus is on ensuring that every American is vaccinated. And once we accomplish that objective we're happy to discuss further steps,” Psaki said at a White House news conference.
Biden confirmed that the two leaders would discuss the issue. “We're going to talk about that,” he told reporters at the meeting's outset.
Biden has predicted the United States will have enough supply by late July to inoculate all Americans. US authorities have administered 76.9 million doses to date, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enough for 23 per cent of the population to get the two doses recommended for full protection under the vaccines that have been deployed so far.
Mexico has vaccinated roughly 2.5 million doses so far, enough for about 1 per cent of the population, according to data compiled by Reuters. Officials have been frustrated by bottlenecks in supply and raised concerns that wealthy countries are hoarding vaccines.
According to Reuters reporting, Mexico would aim to pay back Washington once pharmaceutical companies have delivered on their orders.
Mexican magazine Proceso said Lopez Obrador had asked Biden for help on vaccines in January.
“We'd like to get an answer on a request that we've already made ... about the vaccines,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference yesterday before the meeting. “Provided he's of the view the matter should be addressed. We must be respectful.”
Immigration and energy
Lopez Obrador said earlier yesterday that the meeting would also include talks on immigration, security, climate change and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal.
Mindful of pressure to curb unlawful immigration, Lopez Obrador said on Saturday he wants Biden to help secure US work permits for Mexicans and Central Americans, saying the United States needed another 600,000-800,000 workers.
On Monday, Lopez Obrador said he wanted to broker an agreement that covered all kinds of workers, including “professionals.”
The two leaders could also discuss Lopez Obrador's efforts to strengthen a state-run electricity utility, the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
The Mexican president has cast the legislation as a matter of national sovereignty, arguing that past governments skewed the electricity market in favour of private operators.
Business groups have condemned the bill, saying it risks violating the USMCA and endangers Mexico's renewable energy targets because it puts wind and solar generators at a disadvantage against the CFE, a heavy user of fossil fuels. ― Reuters