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Transcript of Press Teleconference Call with Richard Mills, Assistant US Trade Representative for Media and Public Affairs

RICHARD MILLS: This is Richard Mills with the U.S. Trade Representative. Thanks for joining me today. We can do this call on the record so folks can quote me as spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative.

Let me just begin by making a couple of remarks and then we'll open up to a couple of questions. I thought this might save a lot of time and kind of giving some feedback on the talks that have been going on.

Acting USTR Peter Allgeier met with his Brazilian Co-Chair counterpart Ambassador Bahadian on Tuesday and yesterday to discuss how to advance the FTAA negotiations.

The FTAA remains a priority for the United States and is an important part of our global, regional and bilateral trade agenda to open markets and level the playing field for American farmers, workers, businesses and consumers and in this specific case to promote economic growth, development integration throughout the hemisphere.

The challenge since the Miami Ministerial has been how to translate the issue of having a two-track negotiation in which all 34 FTAA participants agree on a common set of commitments, obligations and benefits and how to translate that into the practical negotiations.

It is rather unique goal, and given the sensitivity, importance and complexity of the issues, a difficult goal. But we feel a goal well worth striving for, given as I said the benefits that we see not only for ourselves but also the Hemisphere in terms of economic growth, development and integration.

The meetings were quite constructive, and we feel that some differences have been narrowed. The Co-Chairs are releasing a joint communiqué today on the talks which I understand is available on our website, and they have agreed to meet again March 29 and 30, next month.

Our goal in that time frame is to continue to narrow the differences with the aim of being able to reconvene the FTAA Vice-Ministerial meetings in late April or early May. And our hope would be at that meeting that the 34 countries would be able to agree on the basis for restarting the work of the negotiating groups.

And then as you know, Brazil as co-chair is slated to host the next FTAA ministerial meeting, and that issue along with the negotiating calendar will need to be considered by the TNC.

So to sum up: we're encouraged, there's a tremendous amount of work to do, but there is movement, and we are going in the right direction.

And I'll just close by, you know, we want to thank our Co-Chair partners, Brazil for their efforts and work over the last few days. With that, I'll open up to questions.

REPORTER: [Reporter's name unintelligible] Would you describe the differences that have been narrowed and how they have been narrowed?

MILLS: Well, at this point as you can imagine given the sensitivity of the talks I don't want to get into laying out or explaining all of the different viewpoints and positions that each side has. And as I am sure you have heard the expression before, we don't want to negotiate this through the press. But suffice it to say that there have been some differences narrowed. There as I said still a lot of work to do. It is a very tough goal that we have all set ourselves one that we think is worth achieving and I think we have laid out for you some timeframes and some benchmarks to watch as we move forward in our work.

REPORTER: Janet Van Grasstek, Washington Trade Report. Any progress made on where a secretariat site will be chosen?

MILLS: Secretariat site? That I don't have to kind of go over today, I will double check to see what we can say about that. But I don't have any thing to comment as far as the secretariat site.

REPORTER: Heather Scott with Market News International. Where is the next meeting going to be held the one at the end of March? And will you just clarify, you said you are hoping to have the Vice Ministerial in late April or early May that seems to indicate you are pretty optimistic that the remaining differences are, won't be that difficult to overcome. Can you comment on that?

MILLS: Well, two things. We are setting up the logistical details for the meeting so I don't have an announcement on the location. We just have set as a benchmark for March 29/30 timeframe. So that's... we'll probably have more information as we get closer to that date. Related to our goal which we laid out is to try to reconvene those meetings of the FTAA vice minister level in late April or early May. I think you know we said that we are encouraged. We believe the meetings that we have had are quite constructive. We don't want to minimize the amount of work and effort that we need to continue doing. But as you will see from the communiqué not only in setting up and announcing the March 29 and 30th dates, but we felt we could lay out where we see and hope things to go.

REPORTER: This is Ian Swanson with Inside US Trade. I apologize I have not seen the communiqué yet but I was...the Brazilians seem to indicate the US showed some flexibility on agriculture and specifically on the basket or products in agriculture that are right now would be on some sort other timeframe for tariff elimination meaning nothing has been decided. They seem to suggest that the US shows some flexibility on this indicating the maybe the US could allow a quicker timeframe on some of these items. Could you comment on that?

MILLS: No, I haven't seen what the Brazilians have said and as you can imagine my normal posture is to not get into that level of detail as far as what was discussed.

REPORTER: This is Ana [unintelligible] with Clarin. In a more general level, could you comment on the agricultural subsidies Bush proposed on the reduction of subsidies in the budget. I would like to know if he has dropped the subject and if there advances from that?

MILLS: Well, in regards to what I think you are referring to is part of the President's, the administration's budget was announced throughout the programs of the United States dealing with all the different issues in the form of agriculture and some of our farm programs. There was an announcement made on some of the changes and proposed changes that folks want to move towards. I would have to get back to you on whether and how much that particular component was discussed in these meetings. I can tell you from the United States perspective, we have been strong proponents of reforming global agricultural trade and we have gone and done a lot of work in the WTO to advance that goal. In 2004, we were pleased to work closely with Brazil and other countries concerned about agricultural farm trade reform and we were very pleased with the result that we were all able to accomplish in the WTO in Geneva last summer.

REPORTER: This is Tatiana Bautzer with Valor Economico. I'd like to know if the US accepts negotiating FTAA without any clause referring to enforcement of TRIPS?

MILLS: I'm sorry. I missed the last part. Can you repeat the question?

REPORTER: Will the U.S. accept the negotiation of the FTAA without an enforcement clause for TRIPS?

MILLS: Again, I am not going to get into negotiating this through on this phone call - that's beyond my capacity. But I can just indicate for the United States, the issue of intellectual property rights and intellectual property protection is a major concern for us. It's an important part of our economy. It's an important part of the investment we make into intellectual property issues and developing advancements. It's not solely an issue that is related to the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It is something that we and many other countries that are concern over intellectual property are addressing throughout the world. So I'll just leave it at that.

REPORTER: This is Sam Gilston. Can you characterize this meeting compared to the last two meetings that the two officials had? Why was this one different than the last couple of meetings that didn't do so well?

MILLS: Well, I really couldn't get into comparing different meetings at different periods of time and how they stack up and giving that kind of color commentary. We just felt both in the joint communiqué that you can see and in the words we're saying, that we believe that these meetings were quite constructive. We feel the differences and sub-differences have been narrowed and so we are encouraged, that's the outcome of these meetings and I don't want to get into describing how they are with relations to others.

I think I have time for a couple more questions.

REPORTER: This is Keith Koffler. Who exactly spoke, did the negotiations the last few days?

MILLS: Well, the participants in the discussions involved a range of officials from the Brazil side and the US side and some of our negotiating team members were there and as I indicated at the top acting USTR Ambassador Peter Allgeier and his Brazilian Co-Chair Ambassador Bahadian participated in the senior level at various points in the talks.

REPORTER: Can you give a spelling for the Brazilian Co-Chair?

MILLS: Yes, Bahadian

REPORTER: What is his first name?

MILLS: Adhemar

REPORTER: What's his title?

MILLS: He is Co-Chair, along with Ambassador Allgeier of the FTAA negotiations.

REPORTER: What is his title in the Brazilian government?

MILLS: He is titled, you might want to double-check this with the Brazilians, he is the Consul General to Argentina in Buenos Aires.

REPORTER: Could you respell both his name?

MILLS: Adhemar Bahadian

[CROSSTALK]

REPORTER: This is Joanna Ramey at Fairchild Publications. Are you able to discuss some of the differences that have been narrowed?

MILLS: No, we haven't gotten into the level of detail. We have just indicated that some of the differences have been narrowed and that we felt the meetings were quite constructive. But we have left it at that.

REPORTER: Rich, it was two days of meetings, right?

MILLS: Yes, the meetings took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. I don't think they were two full days of meetings because I think the Tuesday meeting started after the noon hour, but they were held on two different calendar days, that's correct.

REPORTER: Are you expecting a read out are Airbus talks tomorrow?

MILLS: Well, they are going on today. The questioner is referring to discussions between the United States and Europe over the Airbus/Boeing issue and those are on-going right now. I have don't comments about that.

REPORTER: You said the goal is to reconvene the vice ministers in late April, early May or is that set in stone?

MILLS: I said that our goal is in the timeframe of the next month and setting up those meetings is to continue to try to narrow the differences with the aim of being able to reconvene the FTAA vice minister meetings in late April or early May.

REPORTER: And what will be the goals for that meeting? When will you be looking at a full ministerial meeting?

MILLS: We are talking about a couple of different things, let me try to reiterate that. What I said earlier is the FTAA vice minister meeting in late April, early May. And our hope would be at that meeting that the 34 countries would be able to agree on the basis for restarting the work of all the negotiating groups. And then I indicated that as Co-Chair, Brazil is slated to host the next FTAA ministerial meeting and that issue along with the negotiating calendar will need to be considered by the TNC.

REPORTER: Regarding the negotiating working groups, the working groups basically stopped in the last 6 months, is there any work being done?

MILLS: Have the negotiating groups been stopped in the last...I didn't hear that last part .

REPORTER: Has any work been done?

MILLS: Has any work been done in the last six months in the negotiating groups? No, the co-chair process is where the talks have been focused at this point.

REPORTER: So no work has been done at all?

MILLS: That's right. The co-chair work has been going on but if you are asking if the negotiating work groups have been meeting in other places, no.

REPORTER: Janet Van Grasstek. Was there any discussion at all about the cotton dispute in the WTO or the Brazil soybean issue [unintelligible].

MILLS: I would have to get back to you on that I don't have an answer.

I have time for about one more question. Anybody who hasn't asked a question yet? Ok, well thanks everyone for calling in. If you have any questions please call the press office at 395-3230. Thanks a lot.