WELLINGTON: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discussed efforts to ensure vaccine availability in New Zealand and the Pacific region in a call with US President Joe Biden on Friday (Jul 16), the New Zealand government said in a statement.
The call comes ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Informal Leaders’ Retreat on COVID-19 to be held on Friday.
"President Biden and I discussed the forthcoming APEC leaders meeting and the critical importance of working together as a region to navigate out of the COVID-19 pandemic," Ardern said in a statement released to the media.
“We also discussed the vaccine roll-out, both domestically and in the Pacific region and both our countries' efforts to ensure vaccine availability," she added.
Among those attending the retreat are Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and China's President Xi Jinping.
The meeting on Friday is aimed at bolstering vaccine roll-outs 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 APEC group's response to its biggest economic crisis since World War II, Ardern 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 on Thursday.
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.
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 per cent of the population is vaccinated in some developed countries, the figure is less than 1 per cent for low-income countries, according to the United Nations.
Ardern also wants greater powers for the World Health Organization (WHO), 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 Ardern 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.