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Transcript of Ambassador Demetrios Marantis' Briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center

Transcript of Ambassador Demetrios Marantis' Briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center

Washington Foreign Press Center
Washington, D.C.
March 20, 2013 

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Good morning, everybody. It’s nice to be here, and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to talk to you about all of the great things that we’re doing with our trade relationship in Asia.

As you know, President Obama recently issued his trade agenda, which is a jobs-focused trade agenda that really has at its centerpiece a number of very exciting initiatives in the Asia Pacific. You’re all familiar with many of them, but let me touch on a few and then stop and turn it over to you for questions.

One of the most exciting things we’re working on is the initiative that you’re all familiar with called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We just came back from an extremely productive round, the 16th round of negotiations in the TPP, where we and 10 other countries are in the process of negotiating a 21st century high-standard agreement that does a lot of very interesting new things, including seeking disciplines on leveling the playing field between state-owned enterprises and their private sector counterparts. There are new things that we’re working on in the area of digital trade. There are new exciting things that we’re doing in the area of environment. And as you know, for having followed this for a long time, we have made an enormous amount of progress over the past 16 negotiating rounds, so much so that we were able to really accelerate our work in Singapore and work as the leaders of the TPP countries. President Obama and his counterparts have tasked us is to try to accelerate and make as much progress as we can this year. And we’re on track to do that, which is great.

We are also working on a number of other initiatives in the Asia Pacific. As you know, the United States hosted APEC in 2011, and we had a very successful host year that Russia followed up on last year. This year Indonesia is hosting APEC, and the next big event will be the trade ministers meeting which will take place in [Surabaya] next month. We have been working very closely with Indonesia and with our partners in APEC on trying to carry forward the work – the successful work that has been done in APEC over the past few years, and are looking this year at a number of priorities. One is to continue our work on ensuring nondiscriminatory market-opening innovation policies. We’re working on how to better address issues related to local content requirements. We’re working on ways of continuing to enhance supply chain connectivity in the region. We’re working on implementing the very exciting commitment that APEC economies agreed to in Vladivostok last year, which is to reduce tariffs to 5 percent on a list of 54 environmental goods. So there’s a lot of great work going on in APEC as well.

Last, I’d like to point to work that we’re doing in ASEAN. As you know, President Obama was in Phnom Penh last November, where he and the other ASEAN leaders announced the E3 Initiative between the U.S. and ASEAN. And we have a great opportunity now with ASEAN, particularly as Laos has joined the WTO and as we’ve seen a lot of exciting and encouraging steps in Burma, and we want to take advantage of these great developments and carry our work with ASEAN forward. So we are hoping to pursue a number of things, including trade facilitation agreements. We already have one in place with the Philippines. We are hoping to negotiate a series of investment principles, principles on information and communication technology services. And we are also working to really enhance our private sector-to-private sector relationship with ASEAN. We’re in the process of agreeing to dates for the ASEAN Road Show where ASEAN trade ministers will come to the United States and be able to point to the many trade and investment opportunities both here in the United States as well as in the ASEAN region as a whole.

So there’s a lot of great stuff going on in our trade relationship with Asia – regionally, bilaterally with our different partners. We are working very closely, as you know, with China on – through the JCCT and the S&ED. I was just in Taiwan a couple weeks ago, where we worked through our TIFA to continue to deepen the very important trade and investment relationship we have with Taiwan. We’re working bilaterally with our counterparts in the ASEAN region.

As you know, Japan – Prime Minister Abe has recently announced his intention on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We welcome Japan’s interest in the TPP. As the President has said, we have more work to do with Japan as we work to address bilateral issues of concern in areas such as autos and insurance and non-tariff measures, as well as working to ensure that Japan is prepared to meet the high standards of the 21st century comprehensive trade agreement that we’re negotiating with our TPP partners.

As you can tell, I could probably go on and on about all of the great work that we are pursuing with our counterparts in Asia, but I will stop there and turn it over to you for questions.

MODERATOR: Yes, right here in front. Please wait for the microphone. The gentleman in gray.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. My name is Donghui Yu with China Review News Agency of Hong Kong. When President Obama’s second term attaches more emphasis on economic and trade relations with Asia, will the TPP be more open to China rather than being regarded as a excluding mechanism to China? Will the United States persuade China and Taiwan to join the TPP negotiations as soon as possible? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Thanks for that question. As we’ve said and made very clear, the whole point of TPP is to serve as a platform for integration in the Asia Pacific region. And the United States and the TPP, our partners don’t invite countries or economies to join; it’s the reverse. If an economy is interested in meeting the high standards of the TPP agreement, it needs to express that interest, that it’s capable of meeting the high standards that we’re negotiating. And the 11 TPP partners then decide by consensus whether or not to admit a new member. That’s the process that was used with Malaysia when Malaysia decided to join, and that’s the process that was used with Canada and Mexico when they decided they wanted to join last year, and that’s the process that we’re underway with Japan.

So whether it’s China, whether it’s the Philippines, whether it’s Thailand, whether it’s Taiwan, it’s incumbent upon those economies to be able to convince the other TPP partners that they are capable of meeting the high standards that we’re negotiating.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Right up here in front, with the red tie.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Ikki Yamakawa with Asahi Shimbun, Japanese daily paper. I just wanted to ask you about the TPP nature. So the TPP is a living agreement. So is there any chance for the member countries to talk about – talk again about the determined chapter to – and the – collect them after having new members? And also, secondly, I just want a quick question. How are you going to talk about the U.S. protection about the sugar industry at the TPP negotiations? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Could you repeat your first question?

QUESTION: Okay. So is there any chance for the members to talk about, again, for the determined chapter – the decided chapter and collect them after having new members?

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: I see. So the challenge that we have is we are, as you know, negotiating a high-standard agreement, and there are so many issues at play, whether it’s, as I was mentioning before, state-owned enterprises or investment. And we have a goal of concluding this negotiation as quickly as possible. And when new members have entered, whether it was Malaysia or Canada or Mexico, and whether it may be Japan, we want to make sure that a new member doesn’t slow down the progress that we’re making in the context of TPP.

With respect to your question about sugar, the United States has a number of free trade agreements already in place with certain TPP partners, and it’s not our intention to reopen the market access commitments that we’ve made in those free trade agreements because they are still in the process of being implemented.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you. Yes, here in the middle.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. My name is Sabine Muscat. I work for several German publications and currently write a study for (inaudible) Foundation about U.S. trade agreements. I would like to make the connection to Europe. You just – well, you’re entering the hot phase for the TPP negotiations. At the same time, you’re planning to take on a new big round of trade negotiations with the European Union. So I have two questions about how they would mutually influence each other.

First of all, in terms of resources: Do you have the resources to do two such big things at the same time? Secondly, about issues: Is there any way that TPP negotiations – what do they mean for the Europeans? I mean, I’m thinking of geographic indications, I’m thinking of rules for digital trade. Is there any way these two could be mutually influential? And how would you describe the goals in general for both of these? What are the differences in the aims and goals that the U.S. has with Europe and with Asia? Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Sure. Just as we are very excited about all of the work that we’re doing in the Asia Pacific region, so we are really excited about launching the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU. The U.S. and the EU are already such strong partners. The EU is our largest export market. I think we have roughly $459 billion worth of exports to Europe last year. The prospect of negotiating a comprehensive high-standard trade agreement with Europe is something that will be enormously beneficial for the U.S. economy and for the economies in the EU in terms of creating new export opportunities, boosting jobs. And we’re very excited to begin those negotiations.

As in the TPP, we are going to be seeking with Europe to negotiate a comprehensive high-standard agreement, but Europe is a very different partner than some of our TPP partners. And we face different challenges with Europe than we may face in the TPP region. I think the overall goal of both agreements is very similar, to use trade to support jobs, use trade to boost exports, and to use trade to create a model for trade in the 21st century.

The difference is going to be that there are unique challenges that we face in a transatlantic relationship that we don’t face in a transpacific relationship. And there are going to be unique challenges that we’re going to have to address with each other in Europe. We have historic difficulties on regulatory issues, on agricultural issues. We have differences on geographic indications, as you mention. And this is a negotiation, and we’re going to have to figure it out. But both sides are uniquely committed to negotiating a comprehensive high-standard agreement, and we’re looking forward to beginning those talks.

QUESTION: Is there any chance that – is there a chance that whatever you end up deciding with TPP partners regarding issues like geographic indications, that you would use that to try and also get that in the European agreement? I mean, are there issues that do overlap, despite the two being so different?

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: I think we’re going to have to take it step by step. And we are well advanced in the TPP right now, but we are going to begin the negotiations with Europe, in close consultation with our Congress, as we develop our trade negotiating objectives. So we’re very much at the beginning of the process right now, and we’ll have to see how that unfolds.

MODERATOR: I’d like to take a question from New York.

QUESTION: Oh, hi. I’m from Vietnam News Agency. I have a question for you. How much work you have finished after 16th round in Singapore? And how many rounds ahead to conclude the TPP this year? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Thank you for that. So as you said, we’ve completed 16 rounds. We’ve made an enormous amount of progress so far. We have a round upcoming in May. And similar to questions that we get on timing, the substance of our negotiations will drive the timing and will drive how many more rounds we need in the negotiations.

I’m very encouraged that we’ve made as much progress as we have. We do have a lot of work to do ahead of us. But all 11 TPP members are very focused on the goal of completing this agreement as a comprehensive high-standard 21st century agreement.

MODERATOR: Okay. The lady right here.

QUESTION: Ambassador, welcome to the Foreign Press Center. I’m Nadia Tsao with Liberty Time from Taiwan. Yesterday, you and Senator – you – when you answer Senator Grassley’s question, you said that you will continue to press on the pork issue on Taiwan. And you definitely know when you were in Taiwan that the Taiwan authority has a strong position on this. I wonder how both sides can reconcile. And have you ever thought about bringing this issue to WTO?

And my second question – there was there was a consensus about a two working group. And look at the road ahead. What can we expect from the two working group to achieve? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Sure. So by way of background, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, I was recently in Taipei to hold our high-level Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. And we talked about many issues, including agricultural market access. And the U.S. has very strong views on the issue of our meat exports, and the Taiwan authorities have a strong view as well.

What I said in Taiwan when I was asked about this question by the press there is I think there’s too much focus that the press gives to this one particular issue at the expense of looking at how important our overall economic relationship is with Taiwan. Taiwan is, I believe, the 11th largest trading partner of the United States, and we have a range of issues that we focused on at the TIFA.

You brought up two important issues that we agree to, which is agreeing to establish bilateral working groups on TBT issues, technical barriers to trade, as well as on investment. And those working groups give us the opportunity of troubleshooting problems that exist before they become major problems, but also thinking about how we can further grow our relationship.

For example, on investment, we agreed in Taipei on a series of joint investment principles designed to encourage a level playing field for investments two ways. And given the amount of investments that U.S. companies have in Taiwan and the amount of investments that Taiwan companies have in the United States, working to build that aspect of our relationship is very positive.

But we talked about a number of other things, like intellectual property. It was a very productive set of meetings, and I look forward to our work continuing at the working level over the course of the year so that we can invite our counterparts from Taiwan to Washington next year to hold the next high-level TIFA.

MODERATOR: Yes, right here in front.

QUESTION: Thanks. Andrei Sitov from TASS from Russia. Thank you, Ambassador, for doing this, and thanks to our friends at the FPC for hosting the event. Obviously, I’m interested in Russia. You did refer to the continuity between the APEC summits – which, if you want to expand on that, I’d appreciate that – but my specific question is about the IPR, the issue that’s in our relations, has been for a while.

We – last December, we signed an action plan at the U.S. suggestion. So I want to ask you if you see already signs of progress in implementing that. And specifically on enforcement, I understand that the industry has now indicated – that it is indicating, an American industry like Intel, that there is some movement forward in Russia on enforcement in the IPR. Since the whole exercise is to graduate Russia from the priority watch list, do you agree with your industry? Do you see that progress? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Let me start by just again saying, I think, what a great job Russia did during its APEC host year. We had really great meetings in Kazan at the trade ministers meeting last May, and then – I think the Vladivostok Summit will go down in APEC history as being extremely productive in large part thanks to Russia’s chairmanship in helping us arrive at this landmark agreement on reducing tariffs on environmental goods.

You’re right. IP has been a longstanding issue of concern and an irritant in our bilateral relationship, but as Russia has joined the WTO and has taken on the obligations in the TRIPS agreement, it’s a great starting point for the progress that we can continue to make together. As you pointed out in December, our two countries agreed to an IPR action plan, an IPR working group, to make further progress on issues ranging from online infringement to working on the interplay between digital trade and IPR. And I believe that the working group, in fact, actually met this week in Washington to make progress.

And we have concerns, but we have a mature relationship – the U.S. and Russia do now on trade and economic issues. And I’m confident that through the IPR working group, we’ll be able to, step-by-step, address those.

MODERATOR: The gentleman in the middle over here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. My name is Chi-Dong Lee. I am a Washington correspondent for South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Let me just go back to the question of TPP. We all know that the United States aims to complete the TPP negotiations by the end of this year. Your U.S. officials say South Korea is a natural candidate for the TPPA, but South Korea has not made any decision and it has not shown any clear interest. Given your schedule, given your goal of ending the talks within this year, is there any some kind of deadline for South Korea to make a decision? And is there any timeline you prefer regarding South Korea’s decision? Thanks.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Sure. As I mentioned to your colleague in the front row here, if an economy is interested in participating in the TPP, they need to express their interest and demonstrate their commitment to meeting the high standards of the TPP agreement. And we have had talks bilaterally, informally, to inform South Korea and the government what we’re doing in TPP, because it’s ultimately a decision for the South Korean Government to make.

QUESTION: I was asking if – is there any --

MODERATOR: Wait for the microphone, please.

QUESTION: -- deadline for – some kind of deadline for South Korea to make a decision on whether to join the TPP.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: There’s no formal deadline. We are working to complete, as you said, the negotiations this year. And at a certain point, economies that are interested are going to either be part of TPP as we are finalizing it, but the idea is that if economies aren’t ready right now, that they’ll be able to join once it’s done and essentially accede to the TPP. The whole point of the agreement is to serve as a platform for regional integration in Asia. And as another one of your colleagues said, the idea of it is to be a living agreement so that we’re able to incorporate new members and new issues as we look to the future.

MODERATOR: Right here in the green shirt. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. I’m Joel Van Haren from Al Jazeera English. You mentioned President Obama’s trade agenda, his jobs focus, yet 24 senators, U.S. senators, have recently expressed concern to the President himself in a letter over SOEs and rules of origin and labor rights and their effect on job creation in the U.S. How would you respond to their concerns?

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Again, our whole purpose on every initiative that we pursue, whether it’s the TPP, whether it’s the transatlantic trade agreement, whether it’s negotiations on information technology agreement, expanding the product coverage there, our whole goal is to use trade to create new opportunities and to create the jobs that rely on those export opportunities. 

One of the key challenges that we face, really, in every area is ensuring that our exporters and our workers and our manufacturers and our service providers are able to compete on a level playing field. And one of the issues that has come up recently, and generally in international trade, is whether or not state-owned enterprises introduce distortions into that level playing field. And that is why it’s part of TPP – and that’s why this is something we probably will want to explore in our European agreements as well. And that’s why, in our bilateral relationship, for example, with China, we really do focus on these competitive distortions that SOEs can put into market. Just to ensure that when there is an SOE and there’s a private sector company, they’re operating on a level playing field. 

MODERATOR: I’m sorry, the gentleman in the – yeah, in the back. That’s him, thanks. Sorry, we’re just having a technical difficulty.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. I am Akihiro Okada with Yomiuri Shimbun, Japanese daily newspaper. I have a follow-up question about sugar exemption items. As you said, it’s not our intention to reopen exemption item in current FTA negotiations. I think the reason is it’s still in the process of being implemented. And I think that sugar, it’s a completed exemption item between United States and Australia. Is there any concern U.S. position toward TPP high-standard liberalization?

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Can you repeat the last part of your question?

QUESTION: Is there any concern U.S. debt position toward TPP high-standard liberalization?

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: So as we’ve said and as President Obama has made very clear, we are negotiating a high-standard comprehensive agreement and with – all goods are on the table. We have, as I mentioned, free trade agreements that are in the process of being implemented that – we don’t have any intention of reopening that as they’re being implemented. So we are negotiating a high-standard comprehensive agreement.

As you may recall in November 2011, the TPP leaders issued a document outlining the broad outlines of the agreement which includes a number of key goals like eliminating tariffs and the comprehensiveness of the agreement and addressing the new horizontal challenges that our exporters face.

MODERATOR: We have time for about two more questions. Right here up front.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, I’m Alex Lai from United Daily News in Taiwan. I have a pork issue. I have asked this at some member in Taiwanese Government. They said they have to step down if U.S. pork import to Taiwan, so that’s why we are – care about the pork issue between Taiwan and United States.

My question is: How will you press Taiwanese Government to follow the rule – I mean, just like you said, the scientific standard of the pork issue? And if you cannot reach an agreement for consensus between Taiwanese Government, how will it affect the TIFA talk or the FTA between Taiwan and United States? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Sure. Well, first, we don’t have FTA negotiations with Taiwan right now. We are in the process of working very closely with the Taiwan authorities on all of the issues on our TIFA agenda.

With respect to the question that you asked about pork, we, with all of our partners, push very hard to ensure that food safety measures are based on science and are consistent with international rules. And whether it’s Taiwan or any other partner, that is what we will continue to press. We all have obligations as part of members of the WTO. We all have obligations to follow the rules of the road. And we have difficulties and tough issues and we need to figure out how to best work through them.

MODERATOR: Yeah, right up here in front.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. I’m Ching-Yi Chang with Phoenix TV. The first question: I would like to know, what’s the prospect of negotiating bilateral investment agreement or even free trade agreement with China? And also, has Taiwan shown the interest in joining TPP during your trip to Taiwan? And what was your response? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: So on TPP, my answer, whether it’s to the Taiwan authorities, to the Philippines, to Thailand, to China, is the same, is if an economy is interested in being part of TPP it has to demonstrate a willingness to meet the high standards that we’re negotiating in the TPP agreement.

On the bilateral investment treaty issue, as you know, we’re negotiating a bilateral investment treaty with China. The U.S. spent a bit of time reviewing our bilateral investment treaties and came out with our new model that negotiations with China continue. I think it’s very important. I think it will help to really put important obligations in place that will create stability in the investment climate and address, I think, very important market access issues as well.

So we look forward to continuing our work with China. I think it’s a priority for China, it’s a priority for us, and we look forward to working very closely with our Chinese counterparts on it.

MODERATOR: Did you want to take any more?


STAFF: We have time for one or two more.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Okay, maybe we can take one or two more questions.

MODERATOR: Okay, very good. So back in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Qiang Zou with Legal Daily China. Sorry for being late. I just wonder what will be the convergences or differences between TPP and TTIP transatlantic treaty, and how would the United States improve the two processes parallelly? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: So as I mentioned to your colleague in the second row, we are advanced – well advanced in the TPP right now. We’ve been working very closely with our Congress and our TPP partners on developing our negotiating proposals and negotiating them. We are at the very beginning of the process with Europe now. We need to begin the process with our Congress of developing our trade negotiating objectives that we could propose to the European Union.

We spent a lot of time, as you know, with the EU in the context of the High-Level Working Group over the past year working on the issues that we will want to negotiate with one another. And so we’re looking forward to beginning the process.

MODERATOR: And the last question right here, the gentleman with the glasses.

QUESTION: Hello, it’s Adam Behsudi from Inside U.S. Trade. I just had a question on TPP. Can you describe with any more specificity what the U.S. is asking of Japan to do on automobiles in the consultation process that’s going on right now? And with respect to Japan, given the complexity of negotiating with Japan outside of the consultation process going on right now, is there a move to sort of negotiate with Japan on what could be considered a separate track within the TPP negotiations?

AMBASSADOR MARANTIS: Sure. Again, as I said earlier, the United States welcomed Prime Minister Abe’s announcement last week but indicated that we have more work to do on our bilateral consultations. Autos is one of the issues that we’re working on. There are also, as mentioned before, issues relating to insurance and others.

On autos, the issues are longstanding, the challenges are longstanding, and we are seeking to address longstanding concerns related to transparency, to distribution, to standards. None of these issues are a surprise to anyone because they’ve been issues that have been involved in our bilateral auto relationship for many years now.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you all. That concludes our briefing.