Apec meeting in New Zealand sends ‘very clear statement’ on trade rules
Apec ministers signaled their determination to rejuvenate the World Trade Organization at a meeting hosted by New Zealand overnight, and agreed to reduce barriers to the movement of vaccine equipment against the Covid.
A statement released by ministers in the early hours of Sunday morning dashed the government’s hopes to abolish tariffs on vaccines and related products within Apec, but “urged” countries to review fees levied at the border.
Ministers also agreed to speed up the transit of all Covid vaccines and related products by adopting a set of best practice guidelines.
Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan said ahead of the meeting that discussions within Apec on responding to China’s trade sanctions against the country had been made more difficult because Apec meetings hosted by New Zealand. Zealand this year cannot take place face to face due to Covid.
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Speaking to the media ahead of the meeting, Tehan said that normally when Apec takes place in person, ministers could talk on the sidelines of conferences about “these types of issues” – referring to possible needs to diversify trade. . from China.
But Tehan said he was encouraged that the declaration agreed by the ministers included a “very clear reaffirmation of the World Trade Organization, global rules and ensuring that everyone adheres to them.”
The Apec statement said ministers were determined to ensure that the 12th WTO Ministerial in December yields tangible results.
“We will cooperate to further strengthen the role of the WTO in establishing rules that support a free, fair, predictable, non-discriminatory, transparent and open trade and investment environment,” he said.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai told media ahead of the meeting that parts of her trade relationship with China were “unbalanced” and have, over time, been very damaging to the US economy “.
“We also see an imbalance within the WTO,” she said, describing its dispute settlement process as “a very powerful and authoritarian litigation function”.
The United States is committed to “rebalance the trade relations between the United States and China and in the WTO, in terms of reform and revitalization of the WTO,” she said.
The Apec statement reflected these comments, referring to “frank discussions” and “the reform work needed to improve the functioning of the WTO”.
APEC ministers agreed to explore options to suspend fossil fuel subsidies “for those members who are in a position to do so” and expressed support for the WTO to reach a “meaningful deal with effective disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies “by the end of July.
New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor, who hosted the Apec meeting, said ahead of the meeting that he would challenge fellow ministers on the issues.
Apec ministers also supported discussions on a “temporary waiver” of certain intellectual property protections on Covid vaccines, “as soon as possible” and no later than December.
Any decision on whether or not to forgo intellectual property protections on vaccines, to allow companies that don’t own them to manufacture them, would require consensus at the WTO, O’Connor said.
O’Connor said he was keenly aware that vaccines to fight Covid had been developed very quickly.
“We have to respect this intellectual property. But these are extraordinary times.
“We believe that if there are clearly obstacles to vaccine deployment caused by intellectual property, then we should apply for a waiver,” he said.
“If it is intellectual property that is holding us back, I think there will be a consensus at the WTO and I think that as Apec economies, we are going to ask that this be taken seriously into account. “, did he declare.