Asia-Pacific ministers agree on accelerating vaccine distribution

Jun 06 , 2021. 21 hours ago – 01:32 KYODO NEWS

Supplied photo shows Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama taking part in an online meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on June 5, 2021, in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

SYDNEY – Trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific region agreed Saturday on achieving a strong economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, starting with accelerating vaccine distribution.

The ministers from 21 economies that form the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation met virtually amid the pandemic, with New Zealand, the current APEC host, serving as chair.

“Recognizing the role of extensive COVID-19 immunization as a global public good, we urgently need to accelerate the production and distribution of safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines,” they said in a joint statement, stressing trade and investment’s role in ensuring widespread and equitable access to vaccines.

The trade ministers also said APEC economies will work proactively to support discussions for a temporary waiver of certain intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.

The mention of the waiver was included in the statement as New Zealand has announced its support of a proposal by India and South Africa for the World Trade Organization to temporarily suspend the intellectual property protections on the vaccines.

In addition to the joint statement, the ministers issued a separate one on COVID-19 vaccine supply chains that said APEC economies will expedite the flow and transit of all vaccines and related goods through air, sea and land ports.

“We will consider voluntary actions to reduce the cost of these products for our people, particularly by encouraging each economy to review its own charges levied at the border on COVID-19 vaccines and related goods,” the ministers said in the statement.

At a pre-meeting press conference, New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor, who serves as meeting chair, said the successful distribution of vaccines across the Asia-Pacific region will be critical to the region’s recovery.

“COVID-19 has highlighted once again, how much we depend on each other, and how important it is to keep trade and supply chains open,” he said.

As the APEC economies collectively need to vaccinate roughly 3 billion people, O’Connor said he urges the member states and regions to undertake the same level of cooperation they had done for economic development toward vaccines and medical supply equipment.

Meanwhile, Japanese senior vice foreign minister Eiichiro Washio said in the pre-meeting press conference that APEC economies should focus on building greater governance around data exchange to ensure digital information can be exchanged freely and with trust, speaking on the need for the region to “build back better” from the pandemic.

“As the pandemic is accelerating digitalization, a global rule for a digital society is needed,” he said.

Founded in 1989, APEC is a platform for discussions on free trade and economic cooperation by Pacific Rim countries covering 60 percent of global gross domestic product, some 40 percent of the global population and around 50 percent of the world’s trade volume.

APEC groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.