Making Covid vaccines more accessible and reducing carbon emissions were two key promises that senior Pacific Rim authorities could make on Wednesday. But what has become implied are the deep tensions running through the unlikely group of 21 countries and regions comprising the United States, China, Taiwan, Russia and Australia. These tensions have raised questions about who can join a Pacific trade deal and whether the United States will have the option of having a future round of meetings. Trade ministers met online for more than two days at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said after the meeting that members had pledged, as they did last year, to jointly tackle the pandemic.

It is hosted by New Zealand in a virtual format due to the pandemic. Officials have highlighted areas where they could reach agreement ahead of the leaders meeting later in the week.

“We all know that none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” O’Connor said, adding that 17 APEC members “have lowered or completely removed tariffs on vaccines and related products, making them easier to access ”.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said APEC members strongly support global climate commitments.

In a joint statement, ministers agreed to step up efforts to manufacture and supply vaccines and support global vaccine sharing. They also said they would explore ways to ensure people can travel safely in the region to boost business, tourism and education.

“We know that APEC has a role to play in the fight against climate change,” she said. “It is for this reason that ministers agreed to send a strong signal on the importance of stopping further spending on fossil fuel subsidies.”

Asked about tensions between APEC members, the two New Zealand ministers said this had not been discussed.

“There will always be differences between some of the member economies, but those differences are left to other forums,” O’Connor said. Taiwan and China have asked to join a Pacific trade pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Beijing saying it will block Taiwan’s candidacy on the grounds that Taiwan refuses to accept it as part of China. .

And it’s still unclear whether all APEC members will support the United States’ bid to host the 2023 cycle of APEC meetings. Mahuta said on Wednesday that APEC was based on consensus and that there was no confirmed host yet for 2023.

“We hope to get there,” she said.

Summary of the news:

  • APEC reaches agreement on vaccines, carbon, but tensions persist
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