APEC leaders pledge to double down on pandemic

Leaders of the Asia-Pacific trade group APEC pledged to work together Friday to double down on the COVID-19 pandemic, while tensions between the U.S. and China came to the forefront.

Meeting virtually, the APEC leaders said they would seek to expand manufacturing and sharing of vaccines across the region as it continues to see flareups of the health crisis.

Last month, APEC trade ministers agreed to review trade barriers and expedite the cross-border transit of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods.

But they stopped short of a broad commitment to remove tariffs, which host country New Zealand has pushed for.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated those concerns on Friday.

"It may surprise you to know that vaccines can in some cases face tariffs of six percent. Vials and packaging, 20 percent in some cases syringes face tariffs. So, it is a very real problem that APEC economies have the ability to remove.''

Chinese leader Xi Jinping was not in attendance and delivered pre-recorded remarks at the meeting, where he said he supported waiving intellectual property rights on COVID vaccines and pledged over 500 million doses to developing countries.

Meanwhile, the White House said U.S. President Joe Biden re-emphasized the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific at Friday's meeting.

The U.S. and China have had little high-level, face-to-face contact under the Biden administration since senior officials met in Alaska back in March.

Just as Friday's meeting concluded, Washington slapped new sanctions on seven Chinese officials, in its latest effort to hold Beijing accountable for its crackdown on Hong Kong.

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