APEC says states should cut tariffs on medical gear during pandemic – dpa international


Hand sanitiser dispenser inside a café in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

Hand sanitiser dispenser inside a café in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The 21 member-states of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation body (APEC) should “consider the elimination or reduction” of tariffs on medical equipment needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, the group’s Singapore-based secretariat said on Wednesday.

Warning of a “severe shortage” of “life-saving products” such as  face masks, hand soap, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE), the secretariat said that its members – including China, Japan and the United States, the world’s three biggest economies – could agree to “an APEC-wide standstill.”

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.

High-income countries have struggled to source PPE, with some European nations reporting that around 20 per cent of Covid-19 infections are among medics. Doctors in Apec member countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia have been forced to cobble together their own PPE.

China, the pandemic’s source and a major PPE exporter, was criticized by countries such as Spain and the Netherlands after sending consignments of ineffective PPE.

Malaysia, which supplies around two-thirds of the world’s rubber gloves, has been criticized both over a production slowdown caused by a lockdown imposed in mid-March and over allegations that underpaid and overworked foreign migrants are used to staff factories.

Global medical goods trade was worth two trillion dollars last year, or 5 per cent of all merchandise trade worldwide, according to the WTO.

Of that, APEC, which includes large economies such as Australia, Canada and South Korea, carried out medical goods trade worth 676.3 billion dollars, about 20 per cent more than Thailand’s gross domestic product.

Of the 2.5 million people infected with Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, 177,000 people have died. Apec member-states account for around 40 per cent of the global caseload.

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