USTR - Remarks by USTR Rob Portman and US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns - Brief Remarks on Departure from Convention Center
                 
The Office of the United States Trade Representative

Remarks by USTR Rob Portman and US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns - Brief Remarks on Departure from Convention Center
12/18/2005


Remarks by USTR Rob Portman and US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns

Brief Remarks on Departure from Convention Center
World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference
Hong Kong
December 18, 2005
10:00 AM

QUESTION: What's the latest? We've heard that there has been a bit of a breakdown.

PORTMAN: The latest is that I've learned that sleep is over rated. We're getting less and less every night and none last night. But, it was worth it. We made some progress. We came very close to resolving some big issues and we made some progress on some smaller ones. So I'm still encouraged. There's more time left.

REPORTER: What's the sticking block? Is it the end of export subsidies?

PORTMAN: Well, that's one issue you know. It has been not just at Hong Kong, but before Hong Kong. We're still working though that. I'm hopeful that we can get to an agreement. We're very close. And then there are a number of issues. Duty free, quota free, I think we're very close. We were able to have incremental top-ups, or incremental progress on a number of substantive issues: services, NAMA and agriculture. So, you know, it's... The expectations were relatively low for Hong Kong. But, I think we are making some incremental progress.

REPORTER: Have you with cotton? Are you happy with the cotton text?

PORTMAN: I don't know. Both of us are looking at some language right now. That causes us some problems, frankly, and we'll need to look through that. But, we're hopeful we can resolve that as well.

REPORTER: But it sounds like you aren't going to get anything today.

PORTMAN: I don't know. It comes together pretty quickly here. The convention center that is changing hands we're told sometime in the next 24 hours. And you guys have flights out. So, you don't want to stick around, huh?

REPORTER: When are you leaving?

PORTMAN: I'm staying as long as the last negotiator is standing.

REPORTER: So, who is it up to at the moment?

REPORTER: [inaudible]

PORTMAN: What's the attitude of the European Union? I don't... You have to ask them.

REPORTER: They said that the goal posts changed at the last minute.

REPORTER: They said that [inaudible]

PORTMAN: Well, I'm still... Are you talking about export subsidies? I think we came extremely close last night and early this morning. And I'm still hopeful we can get there.

REPORTER: 2013 [inaudible], the date for the end of export subsidies?

PORTMAN: Well, as you know, most countries have a policy in place for 2010. Most countries, including the United States believe export subsidies ought to be eliminated as soon as possible and at a date that most of the groups, including the Africa group, and the G20 group, and the Cairns group, and the United States and others is 2010. But I think it's important to have a date. I think some predictability and certainty is important and that we ought to be somewhat flexible in order to get a date. So...

REPORTER: Would you put 2013 on the table now?

PORTMAN: Well I, you know, I prefer to see 2010, but most important to me is that we take advantage of this opportunity to get 150 countries together and make progress where we can. If 2013 is the best we can get, I think we ought to look at that very, very carefully.

REPORTER: Are you going to consult with Washington on the cotton text?

PORTMAN: We were working the cotton text all night off and on. We were talking to Washington and talking back and forth with our friends in the C4 plus group. And, again, we've got a great relationship with them; a relationship of trust and we're working together. We have some limitations on our side, they have some limitations on their side in terms of what they can accept, so we are still working through it. I'm very optimistic. I want you to hear what Secretary Johanns thinks, though, because he was a trooper, there all night through the negotiations, even beyond the agricultural issues.

JOHANNS: I'd offer a couple of thoughts. It's at this stage where the negotiations get really tough. We're all anxious to get to an agreement. People are putting in a lot of hours. If I may offer a thought, maybe the comment about goalpost-moving. I think we all feel that at times. I mean, we tabled a very ambitious offer in October in terms of our domestic subsidies and market access. Some countries during their interventions have said that that was a really great offer, that was very ambitious, but...and then they start talking about how they think we can do more. So, I think of all of us at times feel that sense that we put something really great out there, why isn't everybody standing and applauding? But having said that, I will tell you that what I am observing is that people are very, very committed to this Ministerial, very committed to the round. We've worked on some very difficult issues. Maybe in the grand scheme of the whole world they're not the biggest issues, but to the countries involved they are enormous.

QUESTION: So what is the one issue that is going to make it or break it?

JOHANNS: I don't think there's any one issue that is make-or-break it. If you heard the comments during the get-together yesterday--I lose track of time, but I think it was yesterday-the spirit was good, the comments were very measured. People were saying that we've got to hang in here. We've got to come out of here with a ministerial declaration. I know we're committed to it. But I will also share with you-and I get to observe this more than the Ambassador, he's on the line every minute, I get a chance to sit back and observe--but I think the mood is such that people are going to give it their very best effort.

QUESTION: I hope to know, how do you feel? Do you feel [inaudible] satisfied up to now, or frustrated?

PORTMAN: We feel satisfied that we are making progress. Again, we're not going to have great break-throughs here, but we will be able to make some incremental progress that will help us to make bigger break-throughs later. One thing we need to do as we leave here is re-commit ourselves to this round, set an aggressive work plan, and a date for the next meeting.

I don't think it should necessarily be a big ministerial meeting. I think it ought to be in Geneva. I think it ought to be a real roll-up-your-sleeves working session. You know, try to make even further [inaudible] progress. But I agree with what the Secretary said. This is an opportunity that is too important for us to pass on. It's an opportunity for us as countries with very diverse interests to come together and reduce barriers to trade, to provide for economic growth and to help the developing world. Very often, when we're back in our capitals, we're talking about incremental changes in the economy through tax policy or budget policy. This is an opportunity to make a big difference, a once-in-a generation opportunity, so we can't let it pass.

QUESTION: What's your schedule?

PORTMAN: You'll have to check with the [inaudible]. My understanding is that there will be another heads of delegation meeting this afternoon, 4 or 5, I'm told. In the meantime, they are working on text. I just left Director-General Lamy, and he is putting together the draft declaration which will be presented to the heads of delegation and then we'll have another plenary session. It's not over yet. We've still got some work to do. I imagine it will be a late night.

QUESTION: The new EU offer, is the 2013 deadline acceptable?

PORTMAN: Well, I think it's important that we have a predictable and certain end date for export subsidies.

QUESTION: Have you agreed to it?

PORTMAN: I haven't really been in that position. I would prefer to see that as opposed to nothing.

QUESTION: So you have not settled on that date, as far as you are concerned?

PORTMAN: Our official position is still 2010, of course, but we are trying to be accommodating.

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