APEC 2021: Pfizer vaccine shows how important our trade relationships really are


OPINION: There are times in life when we don’t realize what we have until it looks like we can lose it.

Covid-19 has touched and challenged every aspect of life around the world.

We are all aware of the efforts, changes and sacrifices we have made here at home in New Zealand to protect ourselves and keep the economy going until we meet our vaccination goals.

Having been on two overseas trade trips so far this year, I’ve seen the effects of Covid firsthand – empty airports, social distancing, and stories of economic and health hardship.

The cumulative effect of various global travel restrictions alone has resulted in production losses of $ 1.2 trillion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Commerce Secretary Damien O'Connor.


Commerce Secretary Damien O’Connor.

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As was to be expected, every economy had to determine its own path through the pandemic and cope with the myriad social, economic and political problems that Covid brings with it.

When this is superimposed on the rise in protectionism in recent years, we have seen trade winds being turned into headwinds.

It shows how dependent we are on one another and how the benefits of working together can be lost if it is interrupted.

This is why APEC 2021 was so important to our region because it gave member countries the chance to come together and find ways to solve problems that are bigger than any single economy. Larger than any economy, yes, but in the case of Covid it also affects every single person of the region’s 2.7 billion inhabitants.

The Pfizer vaccine is a symbol of how interdependent we are. The production comprises around 220 components, which are obtained from 89 companies in 19 national economies. APEC 2021 saw members agree to lower or eliminate tariffs on vaccines as well as pandemic-related goods such as needles and personal protective equipment.

It was an absolute privilege to have chaired a number of APEC meetings during the host of New Zealand.

While it would have been great to host it in person, it actually had some benefits.

First of all, it made it much easier for ministers and leaders to attend each of the many meetings.

The numerous individual zoom sessions that I had with colleagues also helped me in the run-up to the meetings I chair.

I believe these factors paved the way for New Zealand to reach an agreement on our APEC priorities for 2021, which the Prime Minister announced on Friday evening.

These include ensuring widespread access to Covid-19 vaccines, facilitating and accelerating trade, and promoting strategies that will stimulate growth, create new jobs and increase food security. This year we have also pushed ahead with reform of fossil fuel subsidies, environmental initiatives and the economic empowerment of ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and women.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison virtually joins the APEC CEO Summit.

DELIVERED / Delivered

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison virtually joins the APEC CEO Summit.

Some question the relevance of APEC and its benefits. For them, I would say that APEC’s alignment put New Zealand in a leadership role at a pivotal moment. As APEC Ministerial Chair, it also gave me the opportunity to attend the G20 in Italy in October, a group outside of New Zealand.

But more importantly, this year’s APEC collective agreements have the power to influence organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO). Later this month, I will be attending the WTO’s twelfth ministerial conference, where New Zealand will join the APEC economies as a strong advocate for reform.

New Zealand’s fortunes as a nation depend heavily on our ability to trade – to produce something of value for someone else in another part of the world.

As the world’s small economy, we need rule-based systems that secure and promote the benefits of free and fair trade.

Covid has made it so clear to us that it is in all of our best interests to work together and leverage economic collaboration and trade so that we can react faster and recover.

This is how APEC 2021 has helped us all.

This story was produced as part of a publication in collaboration with APEC 2021.

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