World leaders at APEC meeting pledge to redouble pandemic fight
Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade group, including U.S. President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping, pledged in mid-July 2021 to expand sharing and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines to fight the pandemic.
As nations face outbreaks exacerbated by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the leaders said they would encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies “on mutually agreed terms.”
“The pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on our region’s people and economies,” the leaders said in a joint statement issued after a virtual meeting chaired by New Zealand.
“We will only overcome this health emergency by accelerating equitable access to safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines,” they said.
New Zealand said it would chair the extraordinary meeting ahead of a formal gathering in November 2021, the first time such an additional meeting has been held.
“Our discussions moved us beyond vaccine nationalism. Now we are focusing on all aspects of contributing to the global vaccination effort — making vaccines, sharing vaccines and using vaccines,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding that the leaders agreed that preparedness was critical for future pandemics.
The meeting highlights growing concerns about COVID-19, which is raging in the region as countries including Australia, Indonesia and Thailand face new waves of infections.
The White House said President Biden emphasized the importance of multilateral cooperation and his commitment to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
“President Biden also discussed the importance of investing in better global health security and preparedness so that we are ready the next time we face a pandemic,” it said in a statement.
Putin told the group that global barriers to vaccine production and deliveries must be removed.
Despite their show of resolve, tensions remain among APEC members, most notably between the West and China — over issues ranging from the origins of the coronavirus to trade, as well as the CCP’s crackdowns in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and its expansive claims in the South China Sea.
Just as the meeting concluded, the U.S. announced sanctions on seven Chinese individuals over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, its latest effort to hold Beijing accountable for what it calls an erosion of the rule of law in the former British colony.
In June 2021, APEC trade ministers agreed to review trade barriers and expedite the cross-border transit of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods but stopped short of a broad commitment to remove tariffs, which New Zealand was advocating.
There have been over 50 million cases of COVID-19 within APEC’s borders, with over 1 million deaths.
IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS