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Transcript Of Tele-News Conference With Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns At The 27th Ministerial Of The Cairns Group - Cartagena, Colombia - March 31, 2005
MODERATOR: "Good afternoon from Washington. I'm Larry Quinn speaking to you from the Broadcast Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Welcome to today's news conference with Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, who joins us from Cartagena, Colombia where he is attending the 27th Ministerial of the Cairns Group.
"With the Secretary are J.B. Penn, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; and Ambassador Allen Johnson, chief agricultural negotiator with the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
"Before we begin, this note for reporters-- if you want to participate in our question and answer period today simply press "1" on your telephone touch pad and that puts you in our line-up for questions.
"And now it is my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. Mr. Secretary."
SEC. MIKE JOHANNS: "Well, thank you very much. I hope this works a little bit better for everyone.
"As I was saying, we are in Colombia, and I'm attending the Cairns Group meeting, but we have also used this opportunity to do a number of bilateral meetings. Earlier today I met with Minister Andy Mitchell of Canada, and we issued a statement this afternoon on that meeting. I met with the Secretary from Argentina, Miguel Campos. I met with representatives from Australia; the trade minister Mark Vaile was a part of that meeting. And I also had an opportunity to visit with Tim Groser, who is the chairman of the WTO's agriculture negotiating group.
"Earlier this afternoon I did address the Cairns Group, and one of the things that I emphasized is, the commitment of not only myself but this Administration in advancing the agriculture negotiations of the Doha Development Round. There was an opportunity for open discussion after my comments, and the discussion was very good. And I think it's fair to report that the countries that are here are very, very committed to the Doha Development Round process. They are anxious to negotiate an agreement, and everybody has recommitted themselves, if you will, to bringing about reform in agriculture.
"And so the spirit is very good. The reform has focused on three pillars, and as a result of that we can specify that what we are about is trying to eliminate export subsidies, reduce and harmonize trade-distorting domestic support, and reduce tariffs and tariff disparities to open up market access for our products.
"If you look at just the tariff issue, it's so important that we are successful here. For example, on tariffs which control access to markets there's just a vast difference between the average U.S. tariff of 12 percent and the average 62 percent tariff for all world trade in food and agricultural products.
"So you can see this one issue alone is very significant. In the matter of export subsidies, the U.S. export subsidy figure is $55 million, and that falls far short of the European Union's figure of $2.6 billion. So working on that issue, again you begin to see the importance of that.
"Our objective of course always is to get a good trade agreement and do everything we can to expand export opportunities for our producers. Ninety-six percent of the world's population lives outside the United States; so ensuring new trade opportunities is absolutely necessary for us to be successful in agriculture.
"I did want to mention since we are talking about trade the importance of continuing to work CAFTA through the process and bring that to a successful conclusion. I'll once again remind everybody that when it comes to the CAFTA nations they already have access to the U.S. market. In fact, 99 percent of their products now enter the United States duty-free under other preferential trade agreements. By comparison the duties are very high for our products. This is truly, truly leveling the playing field.
"With that, it is a pleasure to be here, and I'd be happy to take any questions that are out there."
MODERATOR: "Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
"We will begin our question period now from reporters with a reminder, if you wish to ask a question please press "1" on your telephone touch pad to signal us. And our first question will come from Matt Kay of the Burns Bureau.
"Matt, go ahead, please."
REPORTER: "Yes. Mr. Secretary, thank you for spending the time with us from Colombia today. Two questions on the WTO/bilateral front here.
"What is your strategy for meeting the July 1 deadline to comply with the WTO ruling with Brazil in the cotton case?
"And secondly, you said you met with the Australians. There have been some reports that they're backing away from their bilateral commitment to reform the Australian Wheat Board. Is that true? And what are you saying to them about that?"
SEC. JOHANNS: "I can tell you that on the cotton case there has been discussion about that, but my response has been not only here but back in the states that we're taking a very, very good look at the case. We are serious about our participation in WTO, and we are absolutely serious about playing by the rules.
"And so we're taking a good look at what that case says, and what the next steps have to be. And as I have talked to the member countries here, that response has I think been reassuring to them in terms of our commitment to the WTO process.
"I just ended a meeting with Australia, and every indication is that they're satisfied with their bilateral agreement. There was absolutely no discussion whatsoever about them backing away. And so -- in fact the mood was very, very positive.
"So I can share that, and that was the meeting that took place within the last hour."
MODERATOR: "Our next question comes from Jerry Hagstrom from Congress Daily. And I would remind reporters that if you have a question you need to indicate that to us by pressing "1."
"Jerry, go ahead, please."
REPORTER: "Yes. Mr. Secretary, two very different questions. The first one is that the Canadians have announced that they're not going to allow beef imports of older animals from the United States, as I understand it. Do you have any reaction to that in terms of the science behind it?
"And secondly, the Washington Post reports this morning that the White House is requiring cabinet officers to work several hours a week in the Executive Office Complex. And I'm wondering how that has affected your schedule or how you're handling that."
SEC. JOHANNS: "On the first issue, I have spoken to Andy Mitchell about what they're doing and their whole goal is to harmonize their system with what we are doing. And so in fact their approach is to mirror the March 7 rule that as you know at the moment has been held up by litigation in our country.
"But in terms of their cooperation on the beef front, it's been very good. In fact, it's been excellent really dating back to before I arrived. And what they are doing here is an effort to try to mirror what we were heading out to do with our March 7 rule before the injunction.
"In terms of your question on meeting at the old Executive Office Building and spending some time there, I can tell you that I have been doing that. And it is a wonderful suggestion. It has been an excellent link for me and people at the White House. I could not be more excited about this. It's been a very, very positive addition to what we do. And I can tell you that as we go through each week at the USDA there are issues that arise where somebody will say, well we need to involve so and so from the White House, or we need to involve so and so from the Office of Management and Budget. And we have used those times to set those meetings up.
"And again, I just could not be more excited. It has allowed me to establish just an ongoing working relationship and to tap into the really very knowledgeable people and great resources that they have at the White House. So I don't know what they did in the first term, but I have to tell you as a former chief executive I wish I would have done something like this when I was the governor of Nebraska. It's just a great approach and I could not be more thrilled by it."
MODERATOR: "Reporters, I have one last call for questions. If you would like to ask a question of Secretary Johanns, please press "1" now on your telephone touch pad. And we do have a caller from Washington Trade, Jim Berger.
"Jim, would you go ahead, please?"
REPORTER: "Can you give us an indication, Mr. Secretary, of the mood at the Cairns Group? You have as you say yourself, the Cairns Group, and the EU there. Will there be a movement towards the middle so a compromise on some of these technical issues can be reached by July, do you think?"
SEC. JOHANNS: "The mood here, I believe, is one of optimism. I do believe that people are absolutely committed to the process, absolutely committed to having frameworks in place by July and then moving forward to Hong Kong in December.
"But as Ambassador Al Johnson pointed out in his comments, there is a tremendous amount of work yet to be done. We should not minimize that. These are complex issues, and this is significant reform in terms of trade policy. So we are definitely not there.
"But the other thing I would mention, I think my presence here to reassure everyone that the policy is still very, very much to do all we can to improve trade opportunities worldwide has been very well-received. And so really across the board country after country the mood toward us has been very positive and I could not feel better about it.
"With that, I do appreciate you all listening in, and I appreciate the questions. And I better move on to get to my next meeting."
MODERATOR: "Thank you, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.
"And thank you, reporters, for participating with us today on this international connection with Cartagena, Colombia. I'm Larry Quinn bidding you a good day from Washington."