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Duterte pushes for covid vaccine access

Rodrigo Roa Duterte
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks in Manila during the virtual APEC meeting among world leaders, hosted by Malaysia. King RODRIGUES / AFP

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) – President Rodrigo Duterte joined 20 other leaders of Pacific rim nations in reaching a consensus to set aside trade disputes and close ranks to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that has tipped the region’s economies into a recession.

Friday’s agreement to issue the so-called Kuala Lumpur Declaration ended a two-year deadlock in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC) bid to come up with a solid document that symbolizes its unity after being divided by a trade war between Washington and Beijing.

APEC 2020 host Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin told journalists via a virtual conference that the two superpowers’ trade war has “been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

United States President Donald Trump, who lost a reelection bid, attended Friday’s APEC summit after snubbing it since 2017. A day before that leaders’ meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping made clear that Beijing will reject protectionist trade policies. Xi was present too, but virtually just like his APEC peers, as meetings wrapped up Friday.

The 21 APEC leaders took turns in delivering their remarks, with Duterte among the last to speak before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s turn.

The Philippine leader spent a good portion of the three minutes allotted to him talking about COVID-19 vaccines, urging APEC members to “ensure the unimpeded flow of medical supplies and technologies.”

“We have to defeat the virus everywhere, or no one is safe. To do this, we need to strengthen partnerships to make vaccines a global public good,” Duterte said in his remarks, a copy of which was given to journalists almost Friday midnight after the conclusion of the APEC meetings.

Duterte pushed for “tripartite arrangements be made between the government, private sector, and multilateral financial institutions” apart from bilateral deals for access to the vaccine.

On the eve of Friday’s APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting, Malacanang disclosed that Duterte agreed to advance supply agreements and make early payments to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers.

The Philippines is in talks with China, the United Kingdom and Singapore for a supply deal, but its vaccine czar also earlier said there was a prior commitment involving five drug makers in the U.S. and Russia’s Sputnik V.

Leaders also agreed to adopt a new 20-year development plan that charts the bloc’s strategic direction, replacing the Bogor Goals first hammered out in 1994 in an Indonesian town where the old agreement was named after. The fresh document patterns its name after Malaysia’s federal administrative center so it is called APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040.

“To ensure that the Asia-Pacific remains the world’s most dynamic and interconnected regional economy, we acknowledge the importance of, and will continue to work together to deliver a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment,” the document reads in part.

Tasked to finetune the details for implementing that new development plan are APEC senior officials. Their work will be reviewed next year.

New Zealand, which also warned against a retreat to protectionism, will host next year’s APEC meetings that will likely see Western networks reinvigorated under a Biden-led US administration. CNN Philippines correspondent Triciah Terada contributed to this report. By Lois Calderon, CNN Philippines