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TRANSCRIPT: Press Conference after WTO Ministerial in New Delhi, India
Ambassador Kirk: Thank you, Carol. Thank you all for your patience in joining with us.
Before I make my observations about the just concluded ministerial, I want to extend my gratitude again to Minister Sharma for convening us here and for his extraordinary performance against a backdrop of what I know is a very painful personal loss not only for him and his friend, the Chief Minister Reddy, but also to the government and people of India as well, and on behalf of the United States we extend our condolences to the family of the Chief Minister as well as those others whose lives were lost that were traveling with him.
This has been my first trip to India. It has been way too fast, but I think it has been wonderfully productive as we have had an opportunity to participate in what I hope will be an important step toward moving the Doha Round toward a successful conclusion sometime in 2010. It has certainly met our objective in creating a renewed sense of energy for the Doha Round of talks.
All of us came to Delhi with the common goal of advancing these important rounds, but I came with an equally clear message as well. That the United States is ready to follow up on the stated objective of our President, Barack Obama, to work collaboratively toward a path that would put Doha on the sure road to success. We believe it's time for sustained bilateral talks along with our multilateral work in Geneva to move the Doha talks into an end game. In these two short days we've seen various nations engage and express their readiness and in some cases their reservations about sitting down and truly beginning the difficult work that lies ahead.
Key nations have repeatedly expressed a commitment to reaching an agreement. The United States believes that now is the time to act on those commitments. This fall can be a critical window for meaningful progress on our Doha negotiations, but we need to make progress now to ensure the opportunity for a successful conclusion in 2010.
We can also build on the multilateral progress that has been made thus far, but we believe in order to get to a successful conclusion we must reinvigorate the process with sustained bilateral engagement in order to go further. This will provide the needed clarity for many nations in order to make a determination of the gains and the sacrifices that each of us will inevitably be made in order to have Doha come to a successful conclusion.
We must fill existing gaps on new, meaningful market openings for all countries involved as well as create economic opportunities worldwide.
In my comments to the group yesterday I expressed the desire that should we come to a successful conclusion of Doha it not simply be the capstone of the largest and the last multilateral agreement of the 20th Century, but it truly be a strong economic tool to govern trade and economic development globally for the next 25-30 years.
In that vein, the United States again is ready to begin, sit down with our partners for sustained talks, and I'm especially pleased that earlier yesterday President Obama announced his intent to nominate Michael Punk to serve as our United States Trade Representative, as our Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO in Geneva. Michael is uniquely suited to lead our very strong Geneva team that is already in place, having worked previously within the United States Trade Representatives' Office, having served as a trade policy analyst during the Clinton administration, and served as Trade Counsel on the staff of the Senate Finance Committee. We very much look forward to working with Michael and having the opportunity to introduce him to our friends and colleagues in Geneva.
In the same way I have urged Ministers here this week to look forward to working with Michael and to be ready to engage the United States. We are respectfully urging his swift movement and confirmation by the United States Senate. In that same vein, I urge my colleagues here in Geneva to move as quickly as well. It is well past the time for us to harness the potential of Doha as a strong tool not only to uplift those least developed countries, but as a part of the global response to this economic crisis.
I appreciate your patience. I look forward to entertaining your questions. Thank you.
Question: It seems the United States has some new ideas on taking the multilateral process forward which includes bilateral engagements by which you can explore how the negotiations can be fast tracked. But it seems that there has been some opposition to these new ideas. So in light of these oppositions, how do you think the U.S., what will be the U.S. strategy on this front now?
Ambassador Kirk: Rich, the United States feels very strongly that in order for us to achieve our common objective which is a successful conclusion of the Doha Round, and not only a successful conclusion, but one that is true to the original intent of Doha, to be a true development round. To help those least developed countries gain prominence and create new economies. We have to think differently about how we get there. I understand that this is a horribly complex process any time you're trying to harmonize the interests of 140-plus different countries, all with extraordinarily different economies and political dynamics, but if we are committed to that goal we should be willing, we believe, to explore any avenue possible to get us there.
An extraordinary amount of good work and effort has gone into bringing us to this point, but the reality is we've now had three failed successive rounds to reach a conclusion. We believe that creates a fairly obvious imperative to look at the alternatives, inclusive of continuing our multilateral engagement, but specifically the sustained bilateral types of negotiations that will ring the type of clarity we think that's necessary for all of the parties to have a clearer picture of what we can gain from Doha. If we do that, and I think that was amplified somewhat here today. I think the reservations of some of those nations that have been reluctant to engage in those sort of talks perhaps can be dealt with.
Question: We had the opportunity to talk to the Ministers from the developing countries and when we asked them what is your expectations from the rich and developed countries, I thought because everybody is saying that came to see this round successfully concluded, but there is a hitch. According to them, the rich nations are paying what is called lip service and not offering much specific on the table. On the contrary they are raising new demands from the developing countries, industrial goods, severance and sectorily, making it mandatory. Those kind of new demands are coming on top of paying only lip service. This is the kind of comments from the developing countries. Your response, please.
Ambassador Kirk: I can honestly say that there was very little of that type of expression at least in our public meetings, so I'm reluctant to respond without knowing who in specific may have made that type of a statement.
Let me say this. I can't speak for any of the other developed countries. The United States has always embraced the special role that we play, being as gifted as we have been as a country with a strong economy that some would argue has been the envy of the world, certainly for the last century, and our unique ability to use our development resources as a way to help uplift some of the least developed countries in the world.
I would challenge you to examine our track record in terms of our engagement with the least developed countries through our generalized system of preferences which allows most of those countries to export their goods to the United States duty free as it is, with rare exceptions, and our track record in terms of contributing to aid for trade and other measures, that our record is one that I'm proud of.
Now, I still believe that the Doha Round will have failed if all we do is examine it in terms of increased market access through traditional markets. Every economist in the world has told us that almost 60 percent of the world's growth over the next 15 to 25 years is going to come from these emerging advanced developing countries like India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and the ASEAN region. It is just as important, I believe, for those least developed countries to have an opportunity to expand trade with these countries as it is the United States. And the Doha Round, when I said earlier that I think we will make a much greater contribution to the world's economy if Doha is at least as forward looking as it is backward looking.
So I believe bringing all of the parties to the table, including these advanced developing economies, is going to be critical to helping us gain the clarity, find the contributions necessary to bring Doha to a conclusion.
Let me add one thing and then I'll move on.
President Obama has said time and time again, we do not look to the least developed countries to provide the sort of clarity and fill in the gaps that we think exist in terms of market access to bring Doha to the table. But we do believe that the advanced developing economies that will play an increasing role in the world's global economic health as well as the leadership of the world trading community have an opportunity to step up to the plate and help us fit and bridge this gap.
Question: I'd like to know whether the administration plans to go to Congress to ask for new Fast Track authority to negotiate, and if the answer is yes, when will you do that? If the answer is no, why not?
Ambassador Kirk: Jennifer, at an appropriate time, and commencement, we believe, when we have something to report to Congress, and we can give them the clarity that Congress deserves and the American public deserves, President Obama and I will seek authority from the appropriate congressional committees to move Doha forward.
Question: From whatever commitments you made on farm subsidies as of now on the table, are you willing to make more concessions? The reason why I ask you this, is we were speaking to the Foreign Minister of Brazil. He's flatly refused any concessions on his part. The Indian Minister has also made it clear that as far as he is concerned the end game is no way near reaching. So are you willing to make any further concessions on farm subsidies?
Ambassador Kirk: First of all, whatever concessions we made will be made in those sustained bilateral talks.
What I would say to you is we believe that is the best fora for nations to move beyond public posturing into the real hardline negotiations that are necessary in order to bring Doha to a conclusion.
Now I would say to you as I've said to my colleagues. If we all maintain the current posture that we have right now, that every nation says I'm not willing to move any further and I won't give up anything else, then there will not be a successful conclusion of the Doha Round. I don't think that's going to come as a surprise to anyone. All of us, but particularly those countries that have the ability to make a contribution to the world's economy, including the advanced developing economies of India, Brazil, China, and South Africa, have I think an added responsibility to make the tough decisions in order to bring Doha to a successful conclusion.
But I believe, I'm going to take everyone at their word that we're negotiating in good faith, which the United States will do.
Question: A lot of countries called in their statements yesterday to resume from the last days of play, and many of them talked about going back to discussions, looking at the text of December 2008 on tariff cuts in agriculture and NAMA. The U.S. said that, Brazil, many countries have said that. Can you talk about where the U.S. stands on that? Do they stand by subsidy cuts envisioned for U.S.-EU in those texts at that time?
Ambassador Kirk: Without getting into the specifics, what we have said and what we think makes sense is, in response to the first question, obviously more is required to get us to a successful conclusion or else Doha would have succeeded in 2008 or 2007, 2005. What we have not asked for is an abandonment of all of the hard work that's gone before. We think we can build on the existing text, but obviously gaps need to be filled in and more needs to be added to them. There are some countries that believe that the 2008 text are inviolate, but the reality is they're called drafts for a reason, is that they have not been completed. What we think is required is just the logical work needed to fill in those gaps and that can be done through the sustained not only bilateral but multilateral fora.
Question: When the talks broke down last July there were two major issues that were identified at that point in time and it was said that U.S. and India backed by some other countries were in major disagreement. These two issues, one was of special safeguard measures, the trigger points and the levels to which they should be raised; and the second one was on linking the sectorals to certain flexibilities.
So after these two days of meetings do you think that there has been any movement from either the U.S. or the India side to give us hope that there can be some early solution to these two issues?
Ambassador Kirk: The most important thing that's happened here today is an expression by all of the countries and a recognition, particularly against the current global economic downturn, that trade has a very real role to play in helping us come from out of that. So one, I think it's given a bit more sense of urgency to our work in the Doha talks.
Secondly, as to those specific questions, I think all of the countries realize we're going to have to be much more engaged in an open and honest way about how we close that gap.
Without getting into specifics, because I'm just not a fan of negotiating in the press, I think all of you, you're obviously a handsome group of reporters, but you've got to be pretty bright to be representing the organizations that you do.
You don't gain clarity by flexibility. And we can make this more difficult than it is, but at the end of the day Doha's a contract. Now it's a more difficult contract because typically when you and I want to buy a house, buy a car make a purchase, we go and somebody sits on the other side and you say you give me X, I get Y. Well that gets more complicated when you have 143 countries involved. It becomes increasingly more difficult when you interject the notion that some countries want to maintain the flexibility to kind of tell you what they'll do later. That makes it almost impossible for many of us in which what we've been asked to give is much more defined to go back to our political constituencies and make the case and say in exchange for the United States doing X, we have the opportunity to find out what these other countries may do five or ten years down the road.
So we think it's important to provide at least some framework to how countries will at least use all of their special, whether it's special exceptions, special preferences, or the special safeguard mechanisms. But I'm encouraged with the expression almost universally here today that we're ready to engage in those type of tough negotiations. We may be able to close the gap.
Question: You have categorized India as an advanced emerging economy and with that you respect more from India than -- But the truth is that India is what economists call a dual economy. We haven industry, we have big cities, but yet the vast majority of the population is engaged is subsistence farming. That is where the flexibility was required.
There is also this development, we can't really say that India is an advanced economy for that part of our population. So is the U.S. willing to concede some flexibility on that score?
Ambassador Kirk: India is a marvelously challenged country for the reasons that you explained, but it also I think necessitates us negotiating in Doha across all of the lines available. That is why the Doha negotiations have been governed by an overriding principle that nothing is settled until everything's settled. And although Doha is principally dealing with agriculture and non-agriculture, we also have the opportunity in negotiating in services and rules, in trade facilitation, to give countries other ways to meet some of those obligations while at the same time recognizing the challenges that not only India but many countries have of having these sort of dual economies. But that best can occur within we think not only the multilateral environment in Geneva, but also the very challenged bilateral sustained talks as well.
Question: You just said you should move away from public posturing and focus on sustained bilateral talks. Can you give us some specific issues which came up in yesterday's bilateral with India?
And secondly, given the global slowdown, is protectionism high on the agenda?
Ambassador Kirk: Well, on the bilateral relationship, one of the reasons, one of several reasons that motivated my coming here was the excitement that many of us feel with the change in tenor and tone after the elections in India, which I have to tell you from just a purely selfish standpoint of someone who was raised in the South and is fanatic about voting, your elections were a marvelous commentary on the power of a democracy. Just absolutely splendid. But with the new cabinet, new direction provided by Prime Minister Singh and Minister Sharma, and our leadership, we think there is a marvelous opportunity to recast the relationship between the United States and India.
Secondly, I will be back to India in almost less than a month in which we're going to engage much more thoughtfully on our bilateral relationships, so I'll be here for three or four days with Minister Sharma. If you would, I'll defer getting into some of those bilateral issues until that time.
Ambassador Kirk: We do not as yet have a Free Trade Agreement with India, but we have a Trade Policy Framework Agreement that's going to broadly look at all of the areas that we might be able to expand on our relationships.
For all of the strength of the U.S.-Indian relationship commercially, it has been fairly benign. I think we all agree that we can be much more robust than that. We have a Business Advisory Council. Part of our coming together the next month will be to say how do we really reengage these mechanisms? We have a Bilateral Investment Treaty. We had a very successful first meeting on that last month.
My coming back will give us a chance to slow down, take a holistic look, and say where do we have the greatest opportunity to move the relationship forward, and we're very much looking forward to that.
Your question about protection, I think on balance that all countries have followed in a way that was more real than optical the commitment made by our leaders initially at the G20 Summit in Washington last December, then reaffirmed in London and Italy, that we would not engage in protectionism as our world leaders I think have embraced and recognized that over the last 60 years trade liberalization has very much led to increasing quality of life and helping to expand economies of all the world.
If there is any underlying lesson of this current economic downturn, it's just how much the world is interconnected now. And as trade has declined to levels as low as it's been since World War II, we've seen the negative impact that it's had on all our economies.
I believe that countries have wisely taken steps to shore up their own economies, just as we've done in the United States. But for the most part the WTO, which has studied this, has reached the conclusion that protectionism has been kept at a minimum. And hopefully if we can begin to see maybe this current crisis bottom out, that will provide more stability and more strength for those of us who want to make sure that we are looking to liberalize trade rather than move away from it.
Question: Ambassador Kirk, you just mentioned Free Trade Agreement. Is there a chance of a limited Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and India?
Ambassador Kirk: I don't even want to start down that road until we have an opportunity to meet. There are a number of steps that we take before we get there. I would tell you that India --
Question: But is that the plan in the future?
Ambassador Kirk: The whole purpose of us coming back and using the Trade Policy Framework Agreement is to map out a roadmap for our increased commercial relationships, so let me not get ahead of that process.
Question: This morning the Indian government, Mr. Sharma, proposed that the [inaudible] meeting in Geneva should be held in the end of September, and the [inaudible] meeting, again, has to be held in December. What is your comment on that? Are you really willing to have that kind of meeting?
Ambassador Kirk: First of all, I think there was a general consensus among all of the Ministers here that particularly on the eve of the next G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in the U.S., we would like to see our negotiators convene as soon as possible, and we set at least as a stretch goal, to have them convene in Geneva during that period of time that you mentioned, I think September 14th through the 28th. In the case of Japan obviously with their recently concluded elections in their parliament, a new cabinet having been established, we'll have to be somewhat flexible with that.
But the point that I made is that the United States has moved in good faith to follow up on President Obama's commitment and is ready to engage in bilateral negotiations at any point, concluding from, beginning with the conclusion of this conference through the period of time that you reference in September.
Question: Many are saying that this is the end game that we are reaching, so do we see a conclusion coming in 2010?
Ambassador Kirk: Well, I don't know that we're at the end game yet, but at least we are committed to engaging in the sort of negotiations across all the lines -- agriculture, NAMA, services, trade facilitation, multilaterally sustained, that would allow us to be there.
Our leaders in London and in Akila have set as a stretch goal perhaps a conclusion of the Doha round by the year 2010. For those of my colleagues that have lived through the Uruguay Round and others, have helped us to practically understand what has to happen to make that case.
I would say to you parenthetically that obviously you can look at me when I stand up and tell I'm not a marathoner, but for my friends who do run they will tell you that the toughest part of a marathon is the last two miles.
I believe that a lot of hard work has to be done, but if countries do come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to negotiate in good faith, our hope is the outline that we've put out coming out of Delhi will put us on a path that we could have a successful conclusion. But nothing is certain.
Substance will drive this process, not setting deadlines and timelines.
Question: I have heard that you have agreed that you will have another mini-ministerial by November. What the U.S. would like to, what kind of result will be in another ministerial? Is it establishment of modality?
Ambassador Kirk: You'll have to forgive me on this one. I think you may have been misinformed. I don't know that --
What we have agreed upon was to direct our negotiators to meet prior to the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, and preferably, as the gentleman noted, in that period of timeframe from September 14th to the 28th. We have previously scheduled a WTO Ministerial for essentially the first week of December with the understanding that that was not going to be a negotiating round.
What we did modify was that we would obviously assess our progress between now and that period of time and hopefully that would give us some sense of where we would go next year.
Question: I just want to get your sense of the domestic reception for a free trade deal in the United States. Do you believe it's tougher to get a deal passed through Congress now rather than when the group got close in July of 2008? Have the contours of the recession changed the domestic reception for a deal?
Ambassador Kirk: Well, coming from Texas I get to use my stock answer. That's not a question, that's an answer. [Laughter].
Listen, global trade is always a tough sell against very difficult economic environments. When countries and political leaders are principally focused on how to restore their economic health and reduce unemployment and put people back to work, it's oftentimes easier to look inward than it is to look outward.
I am ever the optimist and happen to believe that the actual recent decline in global trade and the commensurate role that has played in the economic crisis sort of helps us make the case for the strength of global trade as a way to expand and create jobs.
Now what I would say to you is this. President Obama and I firmly believe that the American public will embrace and support a trade policy and trade agreements that help us grow and sustain America's economy, that creates meaningful market access which I translate into good jobs, by creating new opportunities around the world. And if we have trade agreements that we can argue to the American public do that, and they also embrace our feelings as it relates to the rights and treatment of workers and protection of the environment, we believe the public and our Congress will support that. And one of the reasons that we have pressed so strongly for a different approach to the Doha Agreement, and I think you would know, I wouldn't have to tell you that, is that there are very few people in America either in Congress or the traditional constituencies that support Free Trade Agreements, that believe that Doha currently meets those objectives. But we think it can be constructed so that it would.
Question: Many of the delegates have said that the draft text that was issued in December should be the basis of further negotiation. What's your take on that?
Ambassador Kirk: Let me make sure that I expressed myself correctly earlier.
We believe that we should build on all of the good work that's been done thus far. But a good deal of honesty needs to be injected into this process that more needs to be done to complete that.
The draft texts were just that, they were drafts. Not everyone agreed with them. There are still gaps in those texts. I don't want to get hyper technical. There is language that's bracketed, meaning that either it's got to be changed --
Now we aren't arguing that you throw that away, but we do think there needs to be an honest recognition that more needs to be done to fill in those gaps to bring them to closure. And that in addition to that to help countries like India and South Africa that are challenged with these dual economies, one of the ways that we can help gain greater clarity and create additional market access is to move forward simultaneously on our negotiations as it relates to services and rules and trade facilitation as well.
Question: After these two days, could you say whether you're getting a receptive response to your request for more market access from the big emerging countries and whether you think that your request for the bilateral negotiations is going to be met?
Ambassador Kirk: Jonathan, I would answer like this. When I was a kid one of the things that I enjoyed the most was when my father took my brother and I swimming. As little kids always do, the first thing you do is look to your mom and dad and say how am I doing? My father would always look at us and laugh and he'd say well, you're not drowning.
So I don't know that I'm at a point to say that there is wild receptivity to our ideas, but we're not drowning. The most important thing is we're not drowning, and in this case we don't have anybody trying to drown us.
So we are all at least committed to going down a path in which we can have the sustained type of bilateral negotiations that we hope would yield the clarity and the market access that we seek.
That drowning thing usually goes over a little bit better than it did here. [Laughter]. There you go. It's been a long two days.
Question: India has said that [inaudible] held talks on services and rules horizontally with agriculture and NAMA. What's your take? Though there is no consensus on this on non-developing countries.
Ambassador Kirk: Forgive me. You'll have to, I didn't get all of your question. Can you repeat it just a little more slowly for me?
Question: India has suggested that we should horizontally move and hold talks on service and rules. What's your view on that?
Ambassador Kirk: I think it's critically, again, the point the gentleman made about the challenge of India having two extraordinarily different economies and difficulty for countries that still have so many people engaged in subsistence farming to make concessions, for example, in agriculture. In our mind in the United States, that makes an obvious case for proceeding on the same path with more intensified talks in the non-agriculture sectors. But particularly in services and trade facilitation. There is an extraordinary amount of gains to be made through rules enhancement, trade facilitation, and rules. We believe that we should embrace the equal Doha mandate not only being a development trend, but that nothing would be concluded until it's all concluded, so let's get going in all areas. Agriculture, NAMA, services. We feel very strongly that's the appropriate path.
Voice: Last question.
Question: Do you see the present global scenario as a worst case scenario for trade? And also how much role would climate change issues have to play in further negotiations?
Ambassador Kirk: Why is it whenever they say last question you always get the most difficult one? [Laughter]. Are you all just trained to do that?
Let me say this. I think climate change, the United States, I am extraordinarily proud of the effort that our President has made not only through our stimulus bill but in advocating for a sensible approach to climate change through our Congress, and we still believe the best venue to address that is through an internationally recognized treaty to deal with that, so we want to do that first.
Secondly, in the trade context, we don't want to do anything in climate change, though, that penalizes those countries that are moving more quickly than others and creates an unhealthy imbalance there in a commercial sense as to how we would address that.
Help me with your first question again?
Question: I was asking whether this was the worst case scenario as we look forward to the negotiations.
Ambassador Kirk: Let me say this, and I don't mean to be facetious. I don't believe that you can be a trade minister or a trade counselor or a trade negotiator unless you have an inherent wild blind sense of optimism because there's always -- If we look backwards historically, there's never been a time that people thought boy, this is the best time to do Uruguay or the best time -- it is always a difficult environment because these are tough issues. Countries are trying to protect growing industries. They're worried about giving away jobs.
I happen to believe that sometimes it's easier to get people's attention in a crisis. There is a wonderful African proverb that says you can take no comfort from the hole in my end of the boat. Right now I think all of the world is in a ship that's sinking. It's a little bit easier to make us understand we all better work to plug that hole.
We think a great tool to not only plug that hole but to get the water out of the boat and get it moving is through trade liberalization. So I think in a converse way there's no better time for an extraordinarily potentially economic powerful tool like Doha than it is right now. This crisis has gotten our attention.
It's been said that you should never waste a crisis, and we shouldn't waste this. I think this creates a real imperative, a real momentum for us to move forward.
My final word, again, is I cannot tell you what a pleasure it's been to work with the new Minister for Commerce here, Minister Anan Sharma. I commend him for his extraordinary leadership just less than a month into his tenure for having the courage and the audacity to bring us all here together in Delhi. It's been a wonderfully productive two days and again, I look forward to being back next month as we continue our bilateral talks.
Thank you all for your patience. I look forward to seeing those of you who will be here again in a month.