APEC to debate proposal to remove tariffs for COVID vaccines, medical prodcuts

A batch of Janssen Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccines from Johnson & Johnson arrives at a military airport in Seongnam, South Korea on June 5, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji / Pool

Asia-Pacific trade group APEC ministers will discuss a proposal from New Zealand to lift tariffs on COVID-19 vaccines and related medical devices on Saturday, although some members consider the plan to be too ambitious.

In a move that could reduce delays in vaccine distribution, hosts New Zealand would like the 21 members of APEC to agree on “best practices guidelines” for moving vaccines and related medical products across borders, one familiar with the talks said Person told Reuters. Continue reading

New Zealand believes that a deal is needed to show that APEC is responding to and relevant to the world’s crisis.

Average APEC tariffs on vaccines are low at around 0.8%, but other key goods in the vaccine supply chain are facing higher tariffs.

Alcohol solutions, freezers, packaging and storage materials, vials and rubber stoppers are subject to average tariffs in excess of 5%, and import duties can be as high as 30% in some APEC countries.

Senior officials have been holding talks since May 18, and trade ministers will hold final talks in a virtual meeting later on Saturday, followed by a joint statement.

Due to the trade war between then US President Donald Trump and China, the APEC assemblies have had difficulty reaching agreements in recent years. The new Biden administration has promised a more multilateral approach.

APEC ministers are also expected to discuss support for surrendering intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, an issue currently under negotiation with the World Trade Organization. India and South Africa lead the call for waivers. Continue reading

In a surprise postponement in May, the United States decided to support patent waiver, which put pressure on opponents like the European Union and Switzerland, where several drug manufacturers are based.

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