PH calls for APEC equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines at APEC meeting

Published June 9, 2021, 7:30 AM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

The Philippines, a developing country with one of the longest hard lockdowns during the pandemic the world has seen, issued a call to the trade ministers of the 21-member countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) virtual Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) Meeting, Philippines   Trade and Industry  Secretary Ramon Lopez called for the urgent collective action at the global level to enhance access to vaccines and critical, life-saving goods. New Zealand chairs APEC this year with the theme, “Join, Work, Grow. Together.”  

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez

“If there is one urgent matter that APEC can address, it is broadening the reach and access of vaccines for humanity,” said Lopez.

At the meeting, Lopez stressed that achieving herd immunity remains to be one of the Philippines’ top priorities. He said, The trade chief also welcomed discussions happening at the World Trade Organization to aid global production of vaccines and called for an open approach to democratize the manufacture and distribution of vaccines through technology transfer, compulsory licensing, and time-bound licensing of intellectual property rights. The MRT meeting was attended by Ministers from countries that are responsible for majority of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine production.  

Lopez, who was infected twice by the coronavirus last year, pointed out that the enormous production capacity of Asia and Latin America remains untapped.  

“Governments, private sector, and research institutions must work together to stimulate broader vaccine production and unhampered distribution of quality and affordable vaccines and essential goods,” he explained.  

Meanwhile, on trade reforms, Lopez announced that the Philippines has established its trade facilitation committee in compliance with the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement to reduce the cost of trade transactions and improve international trade.   

To contribute to a successful 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, the trade chief also underscored the importance of safeguarding and modernizing the WTO through reforms to improve its dispute settlement and negotiating functions. He said, “APEC should ensure that the WTO dispute settlement process remains relevant and fully functional.”  

APEC has a long history of providing leadership in WTO issues especially in the next-generation trade issues such e-commerce, women’s economic empowerment, investment facilitation, and services.  In particular, the Philippines championed the integration of MSMEs in trade, which has led to the creation of the Informal Working Group on MSMEs at the WTO, currently made up of 91 member countries.   APEC Trade Ministers successfully concluded the meeting by issuing a statement on APEC’s strong commitment to bolster actions in tackling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and in enabling a strong economic recovery for all people. The Trade Ministers also welcomed two outcome documents: Statement on COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chains and Statement on Services to Support the Movement of Essential Goods.