Executives of the Asia-Pacific business group APEC pledged to work together on Friday to double the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, as tensions between the United States and China came to the fore.

Gathered virtually, APEC leaders said they would seek to expand vaccine manufacturing and sharing across the region as it continues to see flare-ups of the health crisis.

Last month, APEC trade ministers agreed to review trade barriers and speed up the cross-border transit of COVID-19 vaccines and related products.

But they stopped before a broad pledge to remove tariffs, which host New Zealand has called for.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated these concerns on Friday.

“It may surprise you to know that vaccines may in some cases be subject to tariffs of 6%. Vials and packaging, 20% in some cases, syringes are subject to tariffs. So this is a very real problem that the APEC economies have the capacity to eliminate. ‘

Chinese leader Xi Jinping was not present and made pre-recorded remarks at the meeting, where he said he supported the waiver of intellectual property rights to COVID vaccines and pledged more than 500 million doses to developing countries.

Meanwhile, the White House said US President Joe Biden once again stressed the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific during Friday’s meeting.

The United States and China have had little high-level personal contact under the Biden administration since senior officials met in Alaska in March.

Just at the end of Friday’s meeting, Washington imposed new sanctions on seven Chinese officials, in its latest effort to hold Beijing accountable for its crackdown on Hong Kong.

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