Pacific leaders agree on vaccines, but not on US hosting APEC

Published November 13, 2021
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit via a video link in Moscow, Russia, on Friday. — Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit via a video link in Moscow, Russia, on Friday. — Reuters

WELLINGTON: Pacific Rim leaders agreed to do all they can to improve access to coronavirus vaccines and reduce carbon emissions, but failed to reach agreement on whether the US should host talks in two years’ time.

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping were among those taking part in the online meeting of 21 leaders at the end of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on Saturday, which was being hosted virtually by New Zealand.

The focus was on areas in which the unlikely mix of leaders could find common ground. But the failure of the group to endorse a US bid to host APEC in 2023 pointed to the deep divisions that lie just beneath the surface.

The White House issued a statement after the meeting that did not address the hosting issue. Biden focused instead on deepening economic partnerships in the region with the goal of fair and open trade, and noted that America has shipped 64 million vaccine doses to APEC economies.

A joint statement by the leaders obtained by The Associated Press before its planned release said APEC believes widespread access to vaccines is a priority.

Because nobody is safe until everyone is safe, we are determined to ensure extensive immunisation of our people against Covid-19 as a global public good, the statement read.

The APEC leaders said they supported efforts to share vaccines equitably and to expand vaccine manufacture and supply, including through the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technology.

The statement also said APEC supports improving trade in Covid-19 vaccines and related medical products, including through streamlined customs procedures.

The deep rifts between some members of the group were highlighted this week by a warning from Xi against allowing tensions to cause a relapse into a Cold War mentality as well as a behind-the-scenes struggle between the US and Russia.

A Southeast Asian delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of not being authorised to publicly discuss the issue, said Russia had refused to support US hosting the gathering unless some of its diplomats are removed from a US blacklist or allowed to enter the US to participate.

The delegate said the US resisted Russia's demands because issues involving Americas security are considered non-negotiable. The delegate added that China had stayed silent on the US offer. US officials also would not comment.

APEC works on a consensus basis so Russia’s objections were enough to derail the US bid, at least for now.

In other areas of agreement, the group emphasised the importance of the World Trade Organisation as an arbiter of trade rules. APEC said they wanted to see a pragmatic, multilateral response to Covid-19 at a WTO ministerial meeting later this month.

APEC also said that climate change posed unprecedented challenges to the world.

We acknowledge the need for urgent and concrete action to transition to a climate resilient future global economy and appreciate net zero or carbon neutrality commitments in this regard, the statement read.

In all, APEC members account for nearly 3 billion people and about 60 per cent of the world’s GDP.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2021

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