WELLINGTON • New Zealand is pushing Asia-Pacific trade group Apec to remove all tariffs on Covid-19 vaccines and related medical products, but is facing opposition from some members who believe the plan is too ambitious, people familiar with discussions said.
The proposal comes amid growing concerns that while inoculation campaigns are helping wealthy countries recover, few shots have reached smaller, poorer nations where the virus still rages. The World Health Organisation has spoken about the risks and inequality of such "vaccine apartheid".
New Zealand, which is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum virtually this year, will push for members including the United States, China and Russia to sign two documents related to Covid-19, in addition to the official joint statement issued after the trade ministers meeting today.
All 21 economies are set to agree to apply "best practices" guidelines on movement of vaccines and related medical products across borders, a person familiar with the talks told Reuters, declining to be identified because the talks were private. This could reduce delays in moving vaccines internationally by days.
But a proposal by the host nation to make shipments of medicines, medical and surgical equipment, hygiene products and other goods tariff-free is proving more contentious.
A trade ministry official at another participating country said members were still negotiating what to put in the joint statement. "While some countries have shown their support for the idea of eliminating or reducing tariffs on Covid-19 vaccines, there are some countries that are leading against pursuing such an idea," said the official, who could not be named because the discussions were private. "Some countries like New Zealand have high ambitions when it comes to crafting this joint statement, so they prefer strong expressions like 'tariffs' in the statement," but other countries were not comfortable with that term, the official said.
Although average tariffs on vaccines are low within Apec, only about 0.8 per cent, tariffs are much higher for goods important in the vaccine supply chain. Alcohol solutions, freezing equipment, packaging and storage materials, as well as vials and rubber stoppers face average tariff rates above 5 per cent, according to Apec. Import tariffs can be as much as 30 per cent in some Apec economies.