Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), including US President Joe Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping, pledged on Friday to work together to increase the sharing and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines in order to combat the global pandemic.
In a statement issued following a virtual meeting of the group chaired by New Zealand, the leaders stated that they would encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies “on mutually agreed terms” as the region prepared for future health shocks.
“The pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on the people and economies of our region,” they said in a joint statement. “We will only be able to overcome this public health crisis if we increase equitable access to safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines.”
The leaders of APEC met virtually to discuss collective actions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.
The revolving Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation host, New Zealand, announced this week that it would chair the extraordinary meeting ahead of a formal gathering in November, the first time such an extra meeting has been held. The meeting highlights growing concerns about COVID-19, which is raging in the region and causing new outbreaks in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Australia.
In a call with Biden ahead of the meeting, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emphasized the importance of the 21-economy group working together to navigate a way out of the pandemic.
Putin told the group that global barriers to vaccine production and delivery needed to be removed, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to fellow leaders that the Olympics would be safe and secure. Despite their resolve, APEC members are divided, most notably between the West and China over the origins of the coronavirus, trade, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea.
According to a senior Biden administration official, the president intends to use the forum to show his commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“As one of his first opportunities to meet with many of these leaders, he will emphasize the United States’ long-term commitment to the region. He will present a vision for the region based on our values “stated the official. The grouping includes the world’s three largest economies as well as impoverished nations such as Papua New Guinea, as well as members at vastly different stages of the COVID-19 cycle, which adds to the difficulty of reaching agreement.
APEC’s consensus model has been put to the test in recent years, with the group unable to agree on a communique at their 2018 meeting in Papua New Guinea due to disagreements between the United States, led by former President Donald Trump, and China.
The 2019 APEC meeting in Chile was canceled due to protests, while the one in Malaysia last year was postponed as officials scrambled to organize a virtual meeting as the pandemic gripped the world. In June, APEC trade ministers agreed to review trade barriers and expedite the cross-border transit of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods, but fell short of New Zealand’s demand for a broad commitment to eliminate tariffs.
Within APEC’s borders, there have been over 50 million cases of COVID-19, with over one million deaths. In 2020, APEC’s GDP will have contracted by 1.9 percent.