prime Minister Jacinda Ardern chairs last night's virtual APEC summit

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last night’s informal APEC summit heard from the World health Organisation that the current Covid pandemic had “a while to run.”

And she said that after hearing from the WHO, the 21 leaders understood this would not be the last pandemic.

For that reason, speaking at an early morning virtual press conference, she said, “you will see New Zealand in particular, in the wake of the independent report co-chaired by past New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, a very active response from us to encourage the architecture that will help in the future to create as much transparency as we can in a strengthened World Health Organization.

“In particular, we support a pandemic treaty.

“That’s something that I believe nations will have the opportunity to potentially build and work towards as we look to the UN General Assembly later in the year.

“And it’s an area we are as a nation, will look to make a more active role.”

The idea of a WHO Pandemic Treaty was proposed by 25 nations to the WHO in March but New Zealand was not a signatory.

She said that this would not be the last pandemic we experienced

“Preparedness is critical and that whatever expense we are experiencing now as economies and as a region with 80 million job losses, that’s the amount that is having to be spent to make sure that we are stimulating the economy and recovering will be much, much greater than the investment that we need to put in place to prevent a future pandemic,” she said.

“So there was a strong focus on the need for future prevention.”

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Ardern dismissed questions from reporters about potential tensions involving Presidents Bide, Putin and Xi.

“I found it to be both a productive meeting, but one in which all leaders were engaged and totally focused on the issues that we as a region face,” she said.

“And that, of course, includes the health response to Covid and the economic response and the role that we can all play collectively as APEC economies to accelerate our recovery.

“So, no, that wasn’t an issue that I had to navigate as chair at all.”

Ardern said front of mind for leaders was achieving widespread access for vaccines globally and working collaboratively to provide them to everyone as soon as possible.

“Our discussions moved us beyond vaccine nationalism. Now we are focusing on all aspects of contributing to the global vaccination effort – making vaccines, sharing vaccines and using vaccines,” she said.

“We are also pushing for collaborative and practical solutions on safely reconnecting with the world by continuing to explore options including vaccine passports, travel green lanes and quarantine-free travel bubbles. This is a challenge to which we are working hard to find creative solutions.”

The communique issued after the meeting said APEC members must pave the way for the safe resumption of cross-border travel “without undermining efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We acknowledge the importance of a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment, which can help combat the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will advance economic integration in the region to facilitate recovery.

“At this critical juncture, the World Trade Organization should continue to demonstrate that global trade rules can support the recovery from the health and economic crisis, and we will work constructively to that end.”

Ardern said leaders also discussed a range of other matters relating to the pandemic, including individual domestic approaches to the ongoing management of COVID-19;  the evolving strains and health dimensions of COVID-19, with APEC helping speed the flow of vaccines and fiscal and monetary tools available to sustain economies through the pandemic, with the importance of keeping markets open to one another.

 “Leaders have set strong expectations of the outcomes we want in November to support the COVID-19 recovery. These include making sure that APEC economies have lowered tariffs on vaccines moving across borders, and that economies have accelerated digitalisation of border paperwork, reducing costs on businesses,” Ardern said.

2021 Getty Images MInistry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Deputy Secretary (Trade and Economic) Vangelis Vitalis and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Raj Nahna, sitting in on last night’s summit.

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister spoke by phone to President Biden.

A White House summary of the conversation said they  discussed their interest in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and President Biden “underscored the enduring U.S. commitment to the region.”

But Biden was saying that China was questioning the use of the phrase “Indo Pacific.”

A commentary in the state-run “Global Times” previewing last night’s APEC summit said: “The Biden administration would attempt to turn Friday’s informal leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) into a geopolitical competition platform serving its purpose of securing regional leadership through Indo-Pacific strategy, instead of caring about people’s livelihoods in the region.”

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that the U.S., with its extremely self-centred and hegemonic Indo-Pacific policy, apparently aimed at turning the APEC meeting a new platform to lure other countries, especially those in South Asia, to split the region.

The White House statement on the Ardern call said the leaders also discussed “our close partnership on a range of issues, including efforts to support the global economic recovery and to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

And Ardern said at her press conference that she had invited Biden to have the United States join both the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Greional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“On my call this morning with President Biden, I acknowledged some of that architecture that already exists for which we would welcome the chance to bring the United States in to those agreements, which have a very high standard.”