Jacinda Ardern wants to use New Zealand’s time in the diplomatic spotlight to quickly eliminate tariffs on vaccines, syringes and other medical supplies, her country arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed potentially trade barriers harmful to human health.
- The average price on vaccines in the Asia-Pacific region is 6%
- New Zealand veteran diplomat Vangelis Vitalis says lifting tariffs on vaccines and related supplies crucial
- He says there is hope that tariffs will be removed before the APEC summit in November
The New Zealand Prime Minister will also demand that countries speed up the passage of life-saving vaccines across international borders.
Ms. Ardern is hosting this year’s APEC summit, a gathering of 21 Asia-Pacific economies that include Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States. United.
New Zealand’s chief APEC negotiator, veteran diplomat Vangelis Vitalis, said the summit would aim to bring practical and potentially lasting changes to trade cooperation.
“None of us knew that vaccines or syringes had these kinds of barriers in place,” Vitalis told reporters at a briefing in Canberra.
“The advantage of APEC is that it can highlight this information and say, ‘Do we think this is a sane thing to do in a time of a pandemic.’
Mr. Vitalis said the average tariff on vaccines in the Asia-Pacific region was 6 percent. On syringes, it is 20.7% and on masks 8.6%.
Tariffs on refrigerated storage containers for vaccines averaged 30 percent in the APEC region.
Vitalis said New Zealand hopes trade ministers from APEC members take action to eliminate these tariffs when they meet next month, ahead of the leaders’ meeting in November.
Hope leaders energized by pandemic
Tariffs apply to surprisingly mundane products, such as soap, with an average tariff of 27 percent in APEC member countries.
“I’ve never seen our system evolve so quickly, during this pandemic, when we realized we had a Prime Minister saying, ‘Stay safe by washing your hands’, and we were imposing that extra cost on him.”
Any commitment to lower tariffs would only be voluntary, Vitalis said, but he said a sense of urgency in a pandemic could spur leaders to act.
“This crisis must be dealt with now. Therefore, that is the power of APEC,” he said.
“It’s the ‘APEC effect’ that says, boy, look at this, it’s embarrassing, we have to deal with this.
“And then what we hope is that the APEC effect will cause us all to not feel embarrassed about it and to do something about it.”
APEC ministers will also be urged to dramatically reduce the length of time vaccine stocks are stranded at borders.
Mr Vitalis said that while vaccine supplies can take between three and nine days to pass through customs in some APEC countries, refrigerated food has been transported across borders within six hours, as dictated by the government. RCEP regional free trade agreement.
âThis is something we have to address,â he said.
“As big food producers, Australia, New Zealand, we think this is a very good thing. But surely we need to think of something similar for vaccines.”
Fossil fuel subsidies also in sight
More difficult will be New Zealand’s intention to use its APEC presidency to halt fossil fuel subsidies, which Vitalis said were $ 400 billion and increasing.
“So, in other words, we are capping the amount of fossil fuel subsidies that could happen, and then what we hope is that this will trigger the discussions that we need to do at APEC in the 20’s. next few years which will lead to real reform through this process. “
In January, just a week after his inauguration, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies while instead identifying new opportunities for innovation and clean energy deployment. .
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said Australia’s priority was to remove tariffs on environmental goods and services.
“We have already removed tariffs on medical supplies in response to COVID-19, so we strongly support this initiative,” he said.
“We will engage constructively with all APEC members on New Zealand’s other priorities for this year’s APEC.”