New Zealand has secured an agreement from countries representing more than half the world's GDP to support lifting the last barriers to sharing vaccines around the world.
The commitment is designed to speed the flow of vaccines and vaccine-related goods and ensure "widespread and equitable access", particularly to developing countries.
Apec ministers responsible for trade reached the agreement in the early hours of today, in a meeting chaired by New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O'Connor.
"As we face the biggest health and economic crisis of our lifetimes, I was greatly heartened to see how we united to make progress," O'Connor said, shortly after the first ministerial-level meeting of Apec 2021, which is being hosted virtually by New Zealand.
"We represent half of global GDP and wanted to use trade as a force for good.
"We know nobody is safe until everybody is safe from Covid-19, and we know that our region prospers economically by keeping our markets open to one another rather than closing ourselves off."
The joint statement includes a commitment for the 21 member countries, which represent a third of the world's population, to speed the flow of vaccines and vaccine-related goods by eliminating trade restrictions that increase the cost of vaccines and the goods that support them.
This also included streamlining customs so vaccines flow freely, and removing barriers to freight and logistics services to support trade in vaccines and vaccine-related goods to help fight the pandemic.
"It is encouraging to see Apec trade ministers working together to respond in practical, concrete terms to the Covid pandemic and rebuild our economies," O'Connor said.
"We achieved the outcome we were seeking."
Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth Phil Twyford, who represented New Zealand at the meeting, said Apec had returned to its traditional role of championing multilateralism.
"This was a New Zealand-led Apec initiative, which is intended to help fast track the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines so they aren't held up at borders and are distributed to people in a safe and timely manner," Twyford said.
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 was to be more specific to the vaccination efforts.
While Covid recovery and vaccine access was the most pressing on the agenda, there are also longer-term issues New Zealand will seek to progress at the meeting.
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, as the previous United States administration re-instated tariffs, prompting a number of other nations to follow.
O'Connor said it was clear all 21 economies in Apec "welcomed" the "new" United States approach to trade under President Joe Biden.
"We had a very useful engagement last night."
Other commitments this year included reform of the World Trade Organisation and a series of trade negotiations aiming to be concluded by the end of the year.
Apec members also started work to reform subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in recognition of the climate crisis, and remove subsidies that encouraged over-fishing.
Those discussions were to be concluded by the end of July.
• There are 21 Apec economies, including the three largest economies in the world: the United States, China and Japan.
• 71 per cent 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 per cent of the world's population, or 2.8 billion people, live within the Apec region
• 47 per cent of global trade takes place within Apec.