New Zealand's Ardern to host emergency APEC virus summit

Wellington (AFP) –


New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern will host an emergency meeting of APEC leaders Friday aimed at bolstering vaccine rollouts to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus variants now fuelling the pandemic.

The virtual meeting, called with less than five days' notice, would also examine the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group's response to its biggest economic crisis since World War II, the prime minister said.

"It's a unique opportunity to get APEC leaders together to discuss how we get our region through the health crisis and accelerate economic recovery," she told reporters.

New Zealand is scheduled to host an online summit of APEC leaders in November but Ardern said the extraordinary circumstances created by Covid-19 warranted an additional urgent meeting.

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will attend the virtual meeting, although Ardern said China's Xi Jinping was yet to confirm his participation.

The White House said it would be Biden's first opportunity to meet many APEC leaders and he would "emphasize the importance he places on the region as well as his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific".

"He will provide an update to leaders on what the US is doing to serve as an arsenal of vaccines for the region and to support all those suffering from Covid-19," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Improving vaccine cooperation is expected to be a major focus at the meeting.

Runaway outbreaks of the Delta variant in Thailand and Indonesia showed why it was a mistake for countries to prioritise inoculating their own populations over international cooperation, Ardern argued.

"Nobody is safe until everyone is safe," she said.

New variants could prove more jab-resistant, "potentially undermining the very vaccines we're working so hard to provide".

- 'Unprepared' for pandemic -

At the meeting, Ardern will argue for increased resources for the Covax programme, which was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines but has struggled to secure enough doses for low-income nations.

While 70 percent of the population is vaccinated in some developed countries, the figure is less than one percent for low-income countries, according to the United Nations.

Ardern also wants greater powers for the World Health Organisation, as well as the establishment of cross-border systems to rapidly identify and respond to future pandemics.

"It's clear our global community was not adequately prepared for Covid-19, it's also clear that Covid-19 will not be the last global health risk that we face," she said.

On trade, Ardern said leaders needed to ensure global supply chains remained open and resist the urge to "turn inward" because of the pandemic.

APEC trade ministers had already agreed last month to expedite the trade of Covid-19 vaccines and medical material across the region, she added.

But the prime minister played down expectations of major announcements from Friday's meeting, saying it was primarily an opportunity to bring leaders together to collectively discuss current challenges.