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Transcript: Briefing by USTR Ambassador Michael Froman

12/10/2013
9:20 A.M. EST

*Informal Transcript*

MS. GUTHRIE: Good morning everyone, this is Carol Guthrie, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public and Media Affairs, and I’m calling from Singapore with Ambassador Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative. We’ve just completed four days of ministerial meetings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership here in Singapore. Ambassador Froman will give brief remarks off the top of this call, and then as he is actually at the airport about to catch his plane, we’ll take just a few questions. All of your lines are on mute right now, when Ambassador Froman finishes his initial remarks, I will unmute your lines on the official phone line. But please remember to keep your phones on mute until you are ready to ask a question. When you ask a question please identify yourself and one question per person as we will only be able to take a very small number. With that, we will give the floor to Ambassador Froman for brief remarks.

AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Great, well, thanks everybody very much for joining us this morning. As Carol said we just finished up four days of meetings here in Singapore. It was a great set of meetings, very successful in that the TPP ministers really accomplished an enormous amount across the various texts of the TPP agreement by working together in a collaborative way to identify potential landing zones on the great majority of the outstanding issues. If I had to describe the outcome of the meeting, I would say 'great momentum.' And we’re now focused on building on that momentum with the direction given by the Ministers on the landing zones. Negotiators will have the opportunity now to flesh out the details, and we’ll work with them over the course of the next few weeks with the expectation that the ministers will reconvene sometime next month. With that, why don't I open it up for questions, Carol?

Reporter: Will Mauldin, from the Wall Street Journal.


[TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES]


Reporter: I just wanted to ask if, you know with some of the obstacles including the TPP not getting finished as soon as we hoped and Trade Promotion Authority not yet landing in Congress and some issues about currency, if there are any additional strategies or resources that the Administration or yourself are going to bring to bear to try to wrap up some of these issues and achieve a result somewhat in the frame line, in the timeline that we had hoped.


Ambassador Froman: Well, thanks Will. Look, we’ve got a robust team already working on this at USTR and across the interagency community, we're working closely with the White House on a whole array of those issues as well. You know, I think this was a remarkable meeting in that you had these Ministers, you know rolling up their sleeves, working collaboratively in small groups to come up with these potential landing grounds for these very complex issues that form the basis of the 21st-century agreement. I think that all the ministers left feeling very positive about the success of the meeting and what had been accomplished there. They all recommitted themselves to seek the highest-possible standard agreement, ambitious agreement, a comprehensive agreement, and it felt like this meeting contributed very significantly to that. You know, it's easy to get a quick agreement; all you have to do is draw up your level of ambition and agree to anything. And what was interesting about this meeting is that there was no temptation to do that. None of the ministers said, “Let’s just drop these issues so we can conclude a less ambitious agreement." Rather, they focused on what's it going to take to reach that high-standard agreement and what do we need to do to do that. And that's the main result coming out of this meeting.


Carol Guthrie:
Next question please.


Reporter:
This is Jutta Hennig from Inside U.S. Trade. It seems that among the demands or approach that other countries favored was to often to talk about market access, not just about the rules.


Ambassador Froman:
Absolutely.


Reporter:
And that part of their willingness to advance the rules discussion was contingent on seeing what the U.S. would do on critical market access issues. To what extent did you see this as an opportunity to lay out some of your landing zones on market access?



Ambassador Froman: Well, you’re absolutely right that this negotiation has two tracks: working on the rules on one hand, and working on market access on the other. And both are critically important. And we were very focused on market access, ensuring that we can open markets abroad for our exports, which of course supports increased jobs in the U.S., higher wages in the U.S. across agriculture, manufacturing, and services. And so we were having market access discussions with several of the countries around the table and we spent also a fair amount of time with Japan working on market access and our parallel negotiation over autos. We made some progress on those negotiations but not enough to achieve the meaningful market access that we require and we're going to continue working on that.



Reporter:
When you said progress, do you mean on Japan you made some progress?


Carol Guthrie:
Jutta, ask your second question again please?


Reporter:
It’s a follow up. When the Ambassador spoke about making some progress, was he speaking about the parallel talks with Japan, or overall?



Ambassador Froman:
Well, first of all, on TPP we made significant progress overall. With Japan specifically we made some progress on our parallel negotiations on autos, insurance, and other non-tariff measures, but we have further to go, we are not there yet. And on other market access issues, there is also further work to be done.



Carol Guthrie:
Next question please...



Reporter:
My name is Ira Teinowitz from MLex. There was mention in the statement that while you had reached some sort of [inaudible], there were some things still not resolved. What. issue have not been resolved or still have to be worked on?



Ambassador Froman:
Well, you know, the thing about trade negotiations of course is that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. And so, there are issues in virtually every chapter that are - some are small, some are large. The interesting and the important thing about this meeting is that the ministers that took on the most significant outstanding issues that have eluded agreement up to now among the negotiators, and worked together to find potential landing zones that the negotiators will now flesh out in detail. So, that's across, we worked through virtually every chapter of the agreement has some of these issues, and we worked through, you know, dozens of them.



Carol Guthrie:
Next question please.



Reporter:
Yes, this is Adam Behsudi from Politico. I just had a question, will these parallel talks that are going on with Japan, are those going to continue separately from the talks, or are you looking at combining all of this into one forum?



Ambassador Froman:Well, the way it's been set up is that the parallel talks occur in parallel by definition, and at the end of the day the results of those talks, for example, whatever agreement we reach on autos, becomes part of the market access package of TPP, subject ot the same dispute settlement mechanisms of TPP. So. it's parallel for now, but parts of it will become integrated into the agreement at the end of the day. And that's a focus, on autos to open up Japan's auto market, to deal with a number of the historical issues that have prevented the penetration of that market by U.S. auto companies, and also to deal with other non-tariff measures that keep out U.S. exports so that we can expand those exports and support jobs here at home.


Carol Guthrie: Thanks very much. Next question please.


Reporter: Jerry Hagstrom from National Journal and the Hagstrom Report. What happened on agriculture?


Ambassador Froman: Well, there are various - agriculture comes up in various parts of the agreement and the negotiations in TPP. There are rules and disciplines around agriculture, including in the goods chapter and also in what we call SPS, sanitary and phytosanitary standards. And then ... in the market access negotiations, agriculture is obviously a key issue across the board as we talk with other countries about gaining access to their agricultural market.


Carol Guthrie: We have time for just a couple more. Next question please.


Reporter: This is Mary Berger with Washington Trade Daily. I’m wondering at this point do you think or do you feel that all countries will still be there at the end of the negotiation, or does it look like anyone is lagging behind because they're having trouble with the level of ambition?


Ambassador Froman: Our focus is on working to finish this with all twelve countries, and of course there are additional countries that have expressed interest in joining down the road. And I think all twelve countries are focused on doing that. You know, clearly everybody has, each country has its issues, and it articulates those issues through the negotiations. But everyone is working very intensively on trying to complete this agreement in a way that all twelve could join.


Carol Guthrie: And one last question please. Next question.


Reporter: It's Don Lee from LA Times. Just to clarify, was currency specifically discussed, and what was the outcome of that discussion?


Ambassador Froman: Currency was not discussed in Singapore. Obviously it’s an issue of great importance, and something we’ve been focused on in this Administration from the start, whether it was vis-a-vis China where we have continuously pressed for more market oriented exchange rates at the highest levels, in all the various meetings, and through the G20. And obviously the Treasury Department has the lead on this issue. But the Administration as a whole has been very focused on encouraging and pressing China to liberalize its exchange rate. And earlier this year the G7 also acted to ensure that its members were following appropriate currency policies. And this is all part of our effort to ensure that we’re leveling the playing field so that American workers and farmers and rangers can export their products and take advantahe of some of the fastest-growing markets in the world and the opportunities that they provide.


Reporter: Ambassador Froman, are you planning to bring up the issue?


Ambassador Froman: Well, the Treasury Department has the lead on this. We are in consultations with our stakeholders, with Congress, and continuing to have discussions about what’s the most effective way to deal with this important issue.


Ms. Guthrie: And with that we’ll close the call so that Ambassador Froman can make his plane...