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APEC leaders agree to cooperate on vaccine push

Wellington: Pacific Rim leaders vowed to ramp up the production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines at an emergency virtual meeting to develop an action plan that will contain the global pandemic.

The unprecedented talks brought together heads of state from the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, including US President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who convened the online summit at short notice, described discussions as “rich”, saying they set a strong agenda for APEC’s major leaders’ meeting in November.

“For the first time in APEC’s history, leaders have come together for an extraordinary meeting focused exclusively on Covid-19 and how our region can navigate out of the worst health and economic crisis in living memory,” she said.

“Front of mind for leaders is achieving widespread access for vaccines globally and working collaboratively to provide them to everyone as soon as possible.” The meeting produced few specific commitments, although China’s Xi promised $3 billion in aid to help developing countries recover from the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus.

Xi said China had already supplied developing countries with more than 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses.

A joint statement from the APEC leaders said “we will redouble our efforts to expand vaccine manufacture and supply” with Ardern saying there was also a determination to cut tariffs on vaccines and associated medical equipment.

She said the discussions “moved us beyond vaccine nationalism”, which she blamed for helping the development of the fast-spreading virus variants which are now fuelling the pandemic.

“We need to suppress transmission and do everything we can to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.

‘Vaccine passports’

The New Zealand leader signalled that APEC nations would be looking at digital documentation to streamline travel and trade across international borders without compromising pandemic-related health safeguards.

“We are pushing for collaborative and practical solutions on safely reconnecting with the world by continuing to explore options including vaccine passports, travel green lanes and quarantine-free travel bubbles,” she said.

Ardern said it was vital trade supply chains remained open in APEC, whose member nations collectively account for about 60 per cent of global GDP. AFP

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