New Zealand is set to use its position as host of the next APEC group meeting to urge countries in the region to end all tariffs on medical supplies related to the Covid-19 pandemic, including vaccines, syringes and face masks.
Speaking ahead of a virtual summit of the 21-nation bloc, whose members include China, Japan, Canada and the US, chairperson of APEC’s senior officials' meeting Vangelis Vitalis said it is a "depressing, objective fact" that many economies continue to impose duties on imports of lifesaving supplies.
For example, he highlighted a range of tariffs imposed by various APEC countries, including 30 percent duties on specialized freezers needed to store the Pfizer vaccine at temperatures of -70 degrees C, as well as rates of 21 percent on syringes, five percent on soap and six percent on vaccines.
He therefore urged other APEC members to follow New Zealand's lead by removing such tariffs - something the country did unilaterally last year.
"No international organization at the moment has agreed on a set of medical products [for tariff exemptions]," Mr Vitalis said. "You'd think that it was pretty obvious that face masks and syringes would be a vital part of it."
In addition to ending tariffs, Mr Vitalis also expressed hope that APEC countries will work together to agree new ways to facilitate the transport of vaccines and medical supplies across borders. For example, the removal of export restrictions and simplified customs procedures would make a major difference in this regard.
He added that APEC is able to act more quickly to develop such rules than larger groups such as the World Trade Organization, and if the bloc can quickly agree on a list of products that should have tariffs removed, these standards can then be used as a template by other nations around the world.
APEC meetings are being hosted online this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a wide range of forum discussions set to take place ahead of a virtual leaders' summit and declaration scheduled for November.