Trade Minister Damien O'Connor will this week ask Apec member nations to support lifting the last remaining barriers to the sharing of vaccines around the world.
The Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) meeting on June 5, chaired by O'Connor, will be the first ministerial-level meeting of APEC 2021 which is hosted New Zealand.
"One of the things that we want to get from MRT is the commitment to the flow of vaccines throughout the world, removing any barriers that are in place, and of course the other medical equipment required to support the battle against Covid," O'Connor said.
"If over a third of the world's population, for the 21 economies, can agree on a way forward and some clear signals then that's real progress."
Last year at Apec 2020, the Ministers Responsible for Trade issued a declaration to keep supply chains open and facilitate the movement of essential goods.
This time the focus wil be more specific to the vaccination efforts.
"There are still are some tariffs within Apec economies that make it a little harder to shift the vaccines around. So we'll be asking that economies commit to remove those," O'Connor said.
While Covid recovery and vaccine access will be most pressing on the agenda, there are also longer-term issues New Zealand will seek to progress at the meeting.
Climate change, for example, was something we had been distracted from in the short term but remained a big challenge for all the economies in Apec, O'Connor said.
The other big issue for this Apec round is a reset of the global free trade push.
Efforts to free up trade have hit obstacles in the past few years, with previous US administration re-instating tariffs, prompting a number of other nations to follow.
"The objective is full and fair free trade agreements and rules," O Connor said.
Those rules were overseen by the World Trade Organisation and all the Apec economies were committed to that, O'Connor said.
The minister said he hoped clear signals to the WTO could be worked in the MRT meeting statement.
"Firstly supporting reform of the WTO," he said. "It needs to be improved...supporting the removal of fisheries subsidies, supporting a standstill on fossil-fuel subsidies and - our ongoing challenge - removing agricultural subsidies ."
Despite moves towards increased protectionism in the past few years, New Zealand had been fortunate in the Asia Pacific region to have good multilateral trade agreements in place, with RCEP and CPTPP, he said.
"RCEP's signing and our upgrade of the FTA with China are good signals that we still to move forward and reduce barriers to trade at time when - through Covid - some countries have sought to raise the barriers. "
"As vaccines trade shows us, we have to be able to share across borders, to make the world a better place after Covid."
New Zealand is now halfway through its Apec host year – and approaching the business end of the programme.
O'Connor said he was optimistic real progress on trade could be made through this Apec round.
"As a small trading nation we always have to be optimistic, and I think we've always push the boat out there in terms of ambition," he said.
"We've laid the groundwork, we've tried to lead by example, we've lowered most of the barriers to trade in the world for New Zealand and we're trying to show that."
• There are 21 APEC economies, including the three largest economies in the world: the United States, China and Japan.
• 71% of NZ's two-way trade takes place with Apec economies.
• 14 of our top 20 export markets are Apec members.
• 18 of our 19 free trade agreements are with Apec partners.
• 38% of the world's population, or 2.8 billion people, live within the Apec region
• 47% of global trade takes place within Apec.