Trade minister Dan Tehan has urged nations to overcome their ‘self interest’ and focus on the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to all countries around the world.
Addressing the National Press Club on Wednesday, ahead of an international trip he will be making next week to Indonesia, India, the UAE, Europe and the UK, Tehan said he considered the efforts of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to see vaccines distributed fairly as paramount.
“All members have a real obligation to make sure that they can sit down and put their self-interest aside,” the minister said in response to a question from SBS News.
“My hope is that part of those negotiations will lead to an ability for the globe to increase the amount of COVID-19 vaccines they’re manufacturing, so we can deal with that unequitable distribution.”
Data from the UN’s Futures Platform indicates that only 3% of the world’s low-income countries have received at least one COVID-19 dose, contrasted against the 60% vaccination rate among richer states.
'A majority of the wealthier world vaccinated. Over 90 percent of Africans still waiting for their first dose. This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity.' @antonioguterres @un https://t.co/nShUi7btfu pic.twitter.com/cwaFoVx1eJ #COVID19 #access2meds
— Matthew Rimmer (@DrRimmer) September 22, 2021
Just how well the world was able to secure equal vaccine distribution, which would ultimately help wrest control of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a crucial test for the WTO, the minister said. The proposed TRIPs waiver for COVID vaccines, which will accommodate the manufacture of generic vaccines in low and middle-income countries, will be essential to that discussion, he added.
“The more we can do to lift production of the COVID-19 vaccines, the sooner the world gets back on its feet,” Tehan said.
In Europe, the Australian trade minister will host a WTO mini ministerial meeting as part of a broader OECD ministerial council program in Paris.
Tehan will also attend the G20 trade ministers’ meeting in Italy to advocate for strengthened global trade rules and keeping supply chains open.
“These are important meetings as Australia seeks to harness the power of open global markets to benefit all countries,” Tehan said.
“This is crucial as we enter into a new and more complex era of geostrategic competition. Australia will use these meetings to drive meaningful action focused on the WTO.”
Australia wants the WTO to establish clear rules, arbitrate disputes effectively and efficiently and penalise bad behaviour when appropriate.
“This can be one of the most powerful tools the international community has to counter economic coercion.
“Respect for the WTO’s rule book has largely kept protectionist instincts at bay during the pandemic. That is why strengthening the WTO is one of Australia’s top priorities,” Tehan said.
The trade minister also called the WTO to take action on four issues:
- A trade and health outcome to contribute to health and economic recovery from the pandemic that would facilitate access to medical goods (including COVID-19 vaccines).
- An outcome on services domestic regulation to assist service exporters that have been impacted by the pandemic.
- A new agreement to reduce harmful fisheries subsidies to help support global fish stocks.
- A way forward on reforming trade distorting domestic support on agriculture, which according to the minister remains the most protected and distorted of all sectors.
“We want to see action at the WTO but as importantly we want to see reform. The WTO remains our best global institution to deliver on [the] vision of the free trade of goods as our strongest protection against the mis-use of economic statecraft,” he said.