At the start of the 2021, the government of New Zealand was rejecting calls to support a Covid-19 vaccine waiver, dismissing the claims of domestic unions and civil society groups about its necessity. Despite their support for COVAX and recognition of vaccine inequality for their Pacific Island neighbours and across the wider region, they were hesitant to commit on the issue of a TRIPS waiver.
To address this, Public Services International (PSI) facilitated the cooperation of affiliates across the region to write directly to the government of New Zealand requesting that they reconsider their position.
Ms Mele T. ‘Amanaki, Secretary General of the Public Service Association, Tonga and Female Chair (Titular), Public Service International, Oceania Subregion wrote to a number of key figures in the New Zealand government, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, on behalf of public sector unions from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
The letter stressed the urgency of the situation for workers in these countries, urging the government to “unconditionally support the proposal to waive certain TRIPS obligations for the prevention, treatment, and containment of COVID-19 and to immediately stop obstructing its adoption.”
In response, Damien O’Connor, Minister for Trade and Export Growth, wrote a letter that assured affiliates that New Zealand has “welcomed discussion within the WTO on the proposed TRIPS waiver”, and said that they are “open to consider all options for addressing vaccine access issues.”
This response demonstrated a clear departure from the previous position
and occurred well in advance of NZ directly following the USA in publicly announcing support for waiver, highlighting the strength and importance of solidarity shown across the region.
You can read each letter in full below.
PSI Pacific Island Country affiliates letter to NZ government to support TRIPS waiver (5 March 2021)
NZ Gov Response (6 April 2021)