NZ to push for tariff-free trade of Covid-19 essentials among APEC members

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New Zealand wants to drive the free and easy trade of Covid-19 vaccines and medical equipment between APEC members.

Covid-19 vaccine arrival in New Zealand on 2 March, 2021.

Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

The country is the host of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation this year although all business is being done virtually.

The lead host official, Vangelis Vitalis, said a regional and consensual approach was needed to tackle the pandemic, and one way was to eliminate the various trade-like barriers, such as duties on medical equipment, border delays to the easy and rapid movement of vaccines across borders, and export restrictions.

“There is a question among the 21 of us what do we need to do,” he told a media briefing.

“New Zealand does have a proposal around best practice guidelines… APEC can provide the norms and guidelines to drive change across economies.”

He said an example was to streamline customs procedures so that cooling units needed to safely store vaccines did not sit at borders for days, but could be moved in hours.

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Vitalis said an estimated 15,000 flights would be needed to transport Covid-related supplies, and APEC had to think how they could be managed and products distributed throughout countries as well.

He said New Zealand’s three main action areas for APEC this year were supporting multilateralism such as free trade deals and regional consensus which could provide leads for major climate change and world trade summits in the coming year; promoting digital initiatives to improve efficiency and reduce regional divides; and sustainability.

Asked if he expected greater engagement in APEC from the new Biden administration in the US, Vitalis said it was too early to say how much the US would re-engage with APEC, but there were areas of common interest such as climate change.

He was clear that even if Covid-related travel restrictions were eased, there was no likelihood that any APEC gatherings would be physically held in New Zealand.

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