APEC to expedite vaccines movement

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by TMR FILE

TRADE leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies have collectively agreed to expedite the movement of vaccines in the region through enhancing interdependency between the 21 economies.

New Zealand Trade and Growth Export Minister Damien O’Connor (picture), who chaired the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting 2021 on Saturday said keeping the market open and reducing trade barriers would be the priority for the economies in order to survive the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The successful distribution of vaccines across our regions will be critical to our recovery. I will be asking my fellow trade ministers how we can speed up the trade and vaccines and other residual goods needed to fight the pandemic.

“The interdependency that we have developed across APEC economies has shown incredible performance when it comes to economic output and that cooperation is desperately needed when it comes to vaccines and medical supply equipment,” he said during a virtual press conference on Saturday.

O’Connor said global cooperation is vital in rolling out the vaccines and the supportive medical equipment to ensure an economic recovery beyond Covid-19.

“Across the APEC economies, we have a challenge of vaccinating almost three billion people and we cannot do it on our own. This is an extraordinary time and it requires extraordinary action.

“We should embed that progress and cooperation from developing APEC economies to ensure the economic recovery that we all seek beyond Covid-19 can be supported by the supply chain, the learning in the technologies that we are developing and hopefully it will be in the next 12 months as we work through the critical issues of Covid-19,” he said.

O’Connor added that APEC economies will follow through with the commitment they made last year on minimising the trade barriers.

“As we have the emergence of new variants, we have to make sure the latest technologies in terms of vaccines, if necessary, get rolled out through our economies and shipped to the wider globe,” he said.

The meeting of trade ministers from the 21-economy group, which includes Malaysia, China, the US, Japan, also discussed the intellectual property (IP) waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.

Developing countries are demanding a waiver in IP rights on some patents and technologies in response to Covid-19 due to the “staggering inequity” in access to global public goods.

Last October, South Africa and India had submitted the proposal on waiving the IP rights to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council, which also will give access to other countries to produce the vaccines themselves.

The proposal is pressuring countries such as Switzerland and the European Union (EU), the homes to drugmakers, as the US is backing up the IP waiver proposal in a surprise decision in May.

As a response, the EU submitted an alternative proposal to the WTO, emphasising on limiting export restrictions and existing WTO regulations on a country’s prerogative in granting licenses to producers.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the consensus received from APEC trade leaders is increasing access to vaccines will be a collective priority.

“From the interactions I had with the fellow ministers from the APEC regions, they are in a broad agreement that we need to increase access and supply of vaccines and that we are all committed to bringing each other through this pandemic so that we can get on with the work, revitalising our economy and aim for world recovery,” she said during the virtual press conference.

With regards to the EU proposal, Tai said the US is currently reviewing the alternative plan by the trade bloc before it will be discussed at the WTO platform.

“It is encouraging to see more WTO members coming forward with proposals on what they can support at the WTO concerning IP rules and that applies to the revision of the proposal by the opponents of the waiver.

“We are carefully reviewing the proposals and I’m sure all WTO members are doing the same,” she said.

Meanwhile, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said Malaysia and New Zealand have agreed on upgrading the regional Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA).

AANZFTA, which is undergoing a comprehensive review, currently eliminates at least 90% of the tariff of traded goods and covers a population of about 653 million with US$4.3 trillion (RM17.75 trillion) in trade value.

“We reaffirmed the importance of our bilateral and trade and investment ties.

“We agreed to advance work on upgrading the regional AANZFTA which is undergoing a comprehensive review,” Mohamed Azmin said on his social media account.

The trade official meeting was conducted virtually on June 4-5 and chaired by O’Connor.

Among the key topics discussed were economic and trade policies to strengthen recovery, inclusion and sustainability for recovery as well as pursuing innovation and a digitally-enabled recovery.