New Zealand will use its platform as host of an Asia-Pacific trade group in coming months to seek a global approach to coronavirus vaccinations that would eliminate tariffs on goods needed to fight COVID-19.
Amid concerns that smaller nations may be left behind in vaccinating their populations, New Zealand – one of the most successful countries in curbing the pandemic – will make the proposals at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which it will host virtually this year.
“Our message is that to deal with a global pandemic like this we need more global participation,” said Vangelis Vitalis, New Zealand’s deputy secretary for trade and economy, who chairs the APEC2021 Senior Officials’ Meeting.
“Trade is not going to solve the crisis but trade can help,” he told Reuters in an interview.
New Zealand proposes making shipments between the 21 APEC members of medicines, medical and surgical equipment, hygiene products an other goods tariff-free and easing other restrictions on their movement across borders.
The proposal would have to agreed on in the next couple of weeks to get approved at the APEC trade ministers’ meeting in May, Vitalis said.
Some APEC nations committed last year to keeping COVID-19 supply chains open and removing trade restrictions on essential goods, especially medical supplies. But there has been no firm action since.
Only New Zealand and Singapore took this further, eliminating tariffs on more than 120 products they deemed essential.
“It’s worrying that only two small countries have done that,” Vitalis said. New Zealand wants a ministerial statement listing pandemic-essential products and services, he said.