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

WELLINGTON • New Zealand will use its platform as host of an Asia-Pacific trade group to seek a global approach to Covid-19 vaccinations that would remove tariffs on goods needed to fight the pandemic.

Amid concerns that smaller nations may be left behind in vaccinating their populations, New Zealand - one of the most successful in curbing the virus - will make the proposals at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, which it will host virtually in May.

"Our message is that to deal with a global pandemic like this, we need more global participation," said New Zealand Deputy Secretary for Trade and Economy Vangelis Vitalis, who chairs the Apec2021 Senior Officials' Meeting. "Trade is not going to solve the crisis but trade can help."

New Zealand proposes making among the 21 Apec members shipments of medicines, medical and surgical equipment, hygiene products and other goods tariff-free, and easing other restrictions on their movement across borders.

Some Apec nations last year committed to keeping Covid-19 supply chains open and removing trade curbs 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.

New Zealand wants a ministerial statement listing pandemic-essential products and services, Mr Vitalis said. It would also ease the movement of coronavirus vaccines through air and sea ports. This has been a growing concern among smaller nations like New Zealand which fear that larger economies will buy up and control medical supplies.

Despite efforts by the World Health Organisation to ensure smaller nations get their share of vaccines, experts say richer countries have been hoarding vaccines and essential goods, leaving poorer and smaller nations at their mercy for these products.

Mr Vitalis said that "vaccine nationalism" is in no one's interest. Mutation risks mean a need to avoid "parts of the global population not vaccinated", he said.

While vaccine tariffs are low, there are significant charges on equipment, such as syringes, needles and gloves, which may impede the inoculation process.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline 'NZ to push for tariff-free trade of Covid-19 essentials'. Subscribe