USTR - Transcript of Amb. Richard Crowder’s media session with agricultural reporters
Office of the United States Trade Representative

 

Transcript of Amb. Richard Crowder’s media session with agricultural reporters
02/08/2006
 

(Question asking about the media reports about the WTO biotech decision.)

Amb. Crowder:  We’re awfully pleased with the biotech decision.   We think it’s the right decision.  We appreciate the support of our industry in working with us on it.  We think it will be good for the biotech industry in the broad sense in that it will benefit countries around the world as biotech adoption is increased. 

And who would have thought that when biotech came out some years ago that increased productivity was good for the environment and had all the advantages that biotech had – that it would have to go through such struggles?  And it has gone through some struggles, but despite that, it’s been one of the most successful technology adoption stories that we’ve had.  If you look at the number of farmers that are using it, the rate of adoption, the number of acres and the number of countries and so forth. 

So, you know the report technically is confidential.  I know there’ve been a lot of comments on it, but we’re pleased and I think I’ll just limit my comments to that.

(Question:  Will the EU abide by this decision?)

Amb. Crowder:  It’s up to the EU to abide by it.  I certainly they do.  I have no reason at this stage of the game to expect that they wouldn’t.

(Question:  Is this more important because of the signal it sends to Africa or to countries outside the EU?)

Amb Crowder:  I think it’s important to Africa and the other countries.  And understand that the rate of adoption in developing countries and elsewhere is growing.  But I think this will also encourage the process of approvals and adoption within the EU.  We’ve seen what’s happened in Spain with corn over the years, so I think it will benefit the both of them.

(Question asking about CAFTA implementation.)

Amb Crowder:  The SPS issue is very important to us in implementation. We’ve been working with a number of CAFTA countries and we’ve been successful in a number of countries and I think we’ll be successful in implementation of the entire CAFTA. 

The thing that we don’t want to happen is to have a successful Free Trade Agreement and then product not move because of uncertainty with respect to SPS measures.  We are not asking countries to lower their standards or to compromise their food safety and other SPS measures, but basically to recognize the equivalency issue here and to be consistent with WTO SPS procedures.  There’s no request to compromise any food safety requirements that may exist in other countries.

(Question on CAFTA Timeline.)

Amb Crowder:  We’re working it country by country right now and we will implement country by country.  There are a number of countries that we’re working with now on implementation.

El Salvador is basically done.  As far as I know, it has been worked out.

(Question on Costa Rica election &  CAFTA.)

Amb. Crowder:   No, I would not be in a position to judge what the basis of all the issues in Costa Rica as to whether this is a referendum on that or not.

Senior US Trade Official:  It’s useful to remember what happened in the negotiations.  We closed with the other four countries in December of 2003.  Costa Rica didn’t want to finish.  They then came back January, February and closed out a deal very similar to the others.  And so there’s a dynamic here of Costa Rica seeing the rest of the region move before they feel like they’re being left out, and then they need to be a part of this (unintelligible) So, that doesn’t answer your election question specifically, but I think it does explain a lot of why Costs Rica is going to be lagging, but why we expect them ultimately to be a part of this.

(Question asking for an update on Doha.)

Amb. Crowder:  I’ll start with my first trip to Geneva which was two weeks ago, Jason?  This first month has run together like a two year period almost.  It’s been rather hectic.  I was in Geneva and spent two or three days there visiting with my counterparts from the EU, the Cairns Group, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and a number of other countries talking about the process.  We then went to Davos where the ministers met and I thought we came out of there with commitment by the ministers to move the process forward and tomorrow night we will leave to go back to Europe.  We’ll be in Geneva Saturday, Sunday and Monday to visit with, I guess negotiate with a probably a better word. We have meetings scheduled with our counterparts Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, and Monday in Geneva.  And the WTO agricultural group will meet the rest of that week at WTO.

After that, we’ll meet again in about two weeks, I expect.  We decided when I was over there that the process needed more than a meeting once a week.  So, at the senior official’s level, if you will, we will be pressing this processes as efficiently and effectively as we can to meet the April 30 deadline for modalities.

(Question: Will you meet that deadline?)

I’m going to give you the same answer I have been giving since my third day on the job here.  I spoke to the American Farm Bureau that day and the question was ‘Can you really get this done?”  I said for the time being, we’re focused on how to get it done, rather than if it can be done.

So, that is still our mind set right now – to get it done, rather than saying  ‘what happens if we don’t meet the deadline’ or ‘if someone doesn’t move.’  The idea is to focus on how to get it done, not if. 

I’m an optimist.  I have a perspective on this that goes back a long time.  In 1989 when I came to town to work at USDA, there was a lot of concern about the Uruguay Round.  Obviously in 1989 we didn’t have the time constraints we have now, but people said what can you get done or are you ever going to get anything done?  And, I look back at that time, and at that time, we did not even have an agreement to discipline export subsidies on agriculture.  We did not have tariffication. We had not done the 1990 Farm Bill here.  We had not had the first part of  CAP Reform.

And, out of Hong Kong came an agreement to eliminate export subsidies in agriculture by a date certain.  And this has been a long term objective.  It’s a long time frame, but it says, that maybe some slowness, but the process is working and the most trade-distorting export subsidies have a date certain now.  It’s a real win on something that we were just talking about back in 1989 when I came here.  At that time, Japan was saying ‘we can’t do tariffication,’ the Europeans were saying ‘we can’t do tariffication,’ but at the end of the day something was done and at the end of a few years, we’re getting closer and closer to an objective that we had way back then.

(Question on budget & subsidies)

Amb. Crowder:  I have not been part of the budget process here, having been here just a month, but I think the budget was done as a budgeting exercise, not as a Doha exercise.

(Question on how the negotiations work)

Amb.  Crowder:  Well, you know what we used to say in a number of the companies I worked in:  you haven’t begun to sell until you’ve been told ‘no.’   Until the customer tells you ‘no,’ you’re selling job hasn’t begun.  So, there is a selling job here; there’s a negotiating job here that … and there are trade offs.  I don’t know how many times I was told no, that we cannot tariffy, way back in ’89, ’90.  And the one thing that we’ve got now that we’ve not always had is we’ve got these deadlines (unintelligible) .  I think that’s good.  That’ll put some discipline in the process and we’ll see how far we can take it.

(Question:  Can you point to any specific accomplishment since Hong Kong in these negotiations?)

Senior U.S. Trade Official:  What’s happened since Hong Kong is a couple of things.  One, we’ve started a formal process in Geneva of the negotiators.  Crawford Falconer, the chairman of the negotiations, has called together one meeting.  He’s going to have another one next week.  And, he’s going to be driving that process.  So we’ve got a framework to have talks.

Second, we’ve had some success in terms of knocking down some data ideas that would help.  Some people were saying the deadlines under Hong Kong and to finish negotiations at the end of  2006 were not real.  But out of Davos, everyone re-affirmed the importance of getting that done.  We’ve had some people saying they weren’t going to move any more until others moved, and so they’re just going to sit on their hands.  But again, coming out of Davos, we’ve had countries who know we’re going to have to move in concert.  Everybody’s going to have to move on NAMA and agriculture together.  So that’s helped deal with some of the politics of it.  And we’ve had some countries saying, ‘you know this deal’s not that important, we’re ready to walk away.’  They’re not saying that anymore, again, coming out of Davos.

In terms of a structure, I think we’ve got room for us to negotiate.  In terms of the political dynamic of ‘are we focused on the right question?’ our country’s committed, we’ve got a commitment to that.  But the real tough job is on the substance of this.  How big are the cuts going to be?  How do you work all those out?  Amb. Crowder was remarking on; that’s what we’re headed off to this week, to push that along.

(Question on AWB)

REPORTER:  Are you monitoring the AWB scandal in Australia and what impact to you expect it to have with respect to negotiations?

Amb. Crowder:  We are aware, we are monitoring, I’ve seen what’s going on with the AWB reports.  But it’s … I think it’s too early to say, at least for me, what it might mean for the negotiations.  But it has obviously received quite a bit of press recently. 

(Question on Davos, as what are they instructions, was it the agreement)

Amb. Crowder:  I’m not quite sure, help me on this Sally, exactly.  You mean instructions in terms of numbers or…

Reporter: Instructions on what the expectations would be for the negotiations between now and April 30th.  Was there an agreement?  Was there a determination or agreement by the ministers in Davos to do it now? Or was it a little vaguer than that? 

Amb. Crowder:  Well I think the instructions or the guidelines, if you will, coming out of Davos is that there were three things that were important there.  That there, you know, so good came out of Hong Kong number one.  Number two, we need to build on that together, in concert if you will.  And three, that the times schedule set in Hong Kong should still be a target.  So, that’s where we are and that’s why we’re aggressively pursuing time together and meetings in Geneva and so forth. 

(Question on how market access might be resolved.)

Amb. Crowder: In terms of specific movement,  no.  Ok.  In terms of willingness to sit down at the table in terms of awareness of the importance of not only the market access, but other issues, yes.  The meeting we’re going to have, the meetings we’re going to have this weekend and into early next week in Geneva have received, you know, positive response from those that are going to be at the meeting.  So, the fact that there is a strong willingness to engage in discussion, I think, is a positive sign.  Someone said I’m going to move from 31 percent to 32.5 percent or something like that, no, we’re not at that stage at this stage of the game.  But the idea of engagement on a serious basis is very positive as far as I’m concerned. 

(Question: Are these talks going to be focusing on the market access component of agriculture?)

Amb. Crowder:  We’re going to focus on all three.  We’ll start with market access and then we’ll also focus on domestic support and the export competition disciplines also.

(Question on whether having Sec. Johanns in the negotiations is helpful.)

Amb. Crowder:  For me, it is.  And I’ll just go back until the time that I was here.  I think that team work is important.  When I was here in 1989 and 1992 the ag negotiations were over at USDA.  So there was a natural partnership between USDA and USTR at the time.  I mean Jules Katz was the deputy here and Jules and I met on a regular basis.  And Clayton Yeutter and Carla Hills played with the secretary and Carla was the trade rep at the time.  They met regularly, traveled regularly.  From my standpoint, it’s not uncommon.  I don’t know what happened in between; I wasn’t here.  But certainly, the partnership that we have with USDA and the relationship between Amb. Portman and Sec. Johanns is certainly a strength for us in this whole process.

(Question:  How is the Peruvian agreement going?)

Amb. Crowder:  The Peruvian agreement is done and now we’ll just have to wait for it to go through the Congressional process and I think it’ll (unintelligible) well there.

(Question:  Is the Colombian President coming to negotiate?)

Amb. Crowder:  I had not heard that the Colombian President was coming next week.  Has anyone heard that?  The negotiating team is coming next week and we’ll resume the negotiations with the Colombians that were … we’ll pick up where we were the week before last when they were here.  They’ll be here next week.  In fact, I talked to the minister down there yesterday on the telephone we coordinated schedules because they’re going to be here, I think starting on Tuesday of next week, and we’ll go forward from there.

(Question on the Farm Bureau resolution to extend the Farm Bill.)

Amb. Crowder:  The Farm Bill I will leave to Sec. Johanns and his team.  But, I think the important thing out of the Farm Bureau is that they are supportive of a ‘big deal,’ if you will, in terms of the Doha Round.  That’s the other thing I should say, is that we’re not looking for a small deal, we’re looking for the big deal, if you will, out of this.  We think that’s what we need to be successful for us – to have a big deal out of this.  I think our proposal reflects a big deal.  So, I say again, I think the good news for us out of Farm Bureau is they’re supporting where we’re going there.

(Question on ITC tariffs from Brazil.)

Amb. Crowder:  In all honesty, I don’t know.  I’m not up to speed on this.

(Question on Korea FTA.)

Amb. Crowder:   A free trade agreement with South Korea would be a ‘big deal.’  It’s really important.  It’s our sixth largest agricultural market.  It would be the biggest FTA since NAFTA. If you look at the opportunities for agriculture in Korea, for U.S. producers, farmers, and ranchers, South Korea will be a very important Free Trade Agreement.

Senior U.S. Trade Official:  We were just talking about some of the numbers.  They’re our sixth biggest market.  We sell something like $2.4 billion there in ag products in 2004.  And, that’s over an average ag tariff of something like 50 – 60 percent.  And so already, with those high tariffs in play, it’s a good market.  So, if we bring those tariffs down, it’s got our attention.

Their average tariff is 60 percent.

Amb. Crowder:  These agreements are comprehensive. 

(Question:  Would South Korea really be free trade or are you just expecting reductions in tariffs?)

Senior U.S. Trade Official:  Zero. 

Amb. Crowder:  They don’t all go to zero at the same rate over the same length of time as you’ve seen from one agreement to the other.  But the concept of a free trade agreement is a free trade agreement.

(Question:  The CAFTA countries aren’t selling all the sugar they want to the U.S.; so could Korea come up with something like that for their rice farmers?)

Amb. Crowder:  I think the CAFTA countries will be able to sell the amount of sugar that they agreed to …

Senior U.S. Trade Official:  The South Koreans are very nervous about opening their rice market and you all have seen South Korean protestors on TV.  Who was it was telling us – they’re like the Irish of Asia.  So, it’s going to be a tough slog, but certainly, our expectation is that our FTAs for the markets and products we’re interested in, we want to have free trade.  We did that in CAFTA; they didn’t eliminate their tariffs on white corn.  So we’re going to be pushing to meet that (unintelligible).

(Question about sugar import barriers.)

Amb. Crowder:  The sugar program is part of the Farm Bill process that’s part of the law. Sec. Johanns said a year ago, when we were doing CAFTA, that we would not do anything internationally to interfere with the sugar program through the 2007 Farm Bill.  In terms of where we would like to go, I think the sugar people have said this (unintelligible) Doha, if we went to a level playing field, a comprehensive agreement, that they would support that and that’s what we’re trying to get done.

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