MELBOURNE, June 5 (Reuters) – Ministers from Asia-Pacific trade group APEC are set to discuss on Saturday a proposal from New Zealand to remove tariffs on COVID-19 vaccines and related medical products, although some members consider the plan to be too ambitious.
In a move that could ease delays in delivering vaccines more widely, host New Zealand wants APEC’s 21 members to agree on “best practices guidelines” on the movement of vaccines and related medical products across borders, a person familiar with the talks told Reuters.
New Zealand believes an agreement is needed to show that APEC is responsive and relevant to the crisis facing the world.
Average APEC tariffs on vaccines are low at around 0.8% but other goods important in the vaccine supply chain face higher tariffs.
Alcohol solutions, freezing equipment, packaging and storage materials, vials and rubber stoppers face average tariff rates above 5%, and import tariffs can be as high as 30% in some APEC economies.
Senior officials have been in talks since May 18 and trade ministers will hold final discussions in a virtual meeting later on Saturday after which a joint statement will be issued.
APEC gatherings in recent years have struggled to reach agreements due to then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. The new Biden administration has promised a more multilateral approach.
APEC ministers are also expected to discuss support for the waiving of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, an issue which is currently under negotiation at the World Trade Organization. India and South Africa are leading the push for waivers.
In a surprise shift in May, the United States moved to support a patent waiver, putting pressure on opponents like the European Union and Switzerland, where several drugmakers are based. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)
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