Citing Covid-19, Pacific trade chiefs seek freer flow of vital goods – dpa international


Hand sanitiser and face masks for sale in a Kuala Lumpur supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

Hand sanitiser and face masks for sale in a Kuala Lumpur supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Trade ministers representing 21 Asia-Pacific countries said on Tuesday that they “will work to facilitate the flow of essential goods and services” needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic.

The statement, released by the Singapore-based secretariat of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) body, listed “medicines, medical supplies and equipment, agriculture and food products” among those essential goods.

APEC includes China, Japan and the US, the world’s three biggest economies. Other APEC members include Australia, Canada, Indonesia and South Korea, all of which have gross domestic products exceeding 1 trillion dollars.

Tuesday’s statement marks a rare apparent consensus between China and the US, which have been embroiled in a trade war since shortly after Donald Trump became president in early 2017.

That already-tense relationship has deteriorated since the pandemic spread to the US, which now has the world’s highest reported death toll.

More than 68,000 of the 251,585 fatalities reported worldwide, according to official data collated by Johns Hopkins University, have occurred in the US, which has accused China of a cover-up about the origins of the virus.

APEC last month called for reduced tariffs on medical and protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the average tariff on “protective supplies used in the fight against Covid-19” is 11.5 per cent.

The bloc acknowledged on Tuesday that the pandemic has forced countries to prioritize securing essential goods, but requested that such measures “should not create unnecessary barriers to trade” and be “consistent with WTO rules.”

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