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Sydney: [transcript] of press conference: WTO informal meeting of Trade Ministers.

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Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile

Press conference: WTO Informal Meeting of Trade Ministers

Sydney Friday November 15, 2002

MARK VAILE: Okay, thanks ladies and gentlemen. I will need to be brief because we’re resuming our mini-ministerial meeting at 3.30. We’ve just had lunch with the Prime Minister where the Prime Minister addressed our group of visiting ministers to Australia, particularly on the importance of the Doha development agenda and the importance of ensuring that in the important issues that we are discussing here that we ensure we pay due attention to the needs of the developing world, least developed countries and the developed countries of the world specifically with regard to access to markets and also in terms of access to medicines to treat some specific diseases.

So far this morning we’ve had a very lengthy discussion on the issue of TRIPS and public health and how we can create an environment in the WTO that will allow equitable access to much needed medicines in the developing world without contravening intellectual property rights. We believe that there has been a convergence of opinions of the different stakeholders and interested parties in this issue. We are going to send a very strong instruction back to Geneva to conduct the fine tuning process that needs to be undertaken and resolve this issue and make some decisions, some quite influential and important decisions by the deadline at the end of this year.

If this is achieved out of this meeting this will have meant that this meeting in Sydney has been an outstanding success. The Prime Minister in his comments to ministers identified the important issue of better market access, fairer market access to the markets of the world and particularly the developed countries of the world and particularly for the developing countries of the world in terms of building their economic capacity and their ability to be able to participate in the global economy.

Of course, as I said, we are part way through our agenda, we’re going to be meeting through until after 6 o’clock this evening. We are yet to complete our discussions on the market access issues, on agriculture, on industrials and services and we also then have a discussion on the Singapore issues, the new issues that weren’t mandated out of the Uruguay round that are in areas such as competition investment, rules, anti-dumping, environment and the like. And then we’ll have a further discussion to conclude the day on what the road to Cancun, the next official ministerial meeting next year should be like. What shape it should take. How we are going to ensure as a significant multi-lateral body that we achieve the very ambitious agenda that we set out to achieve out of Doha last year.

So I can report to you so far, it has been a very successful meeting. Ministers are very happy with the outcomes of this morning and the discussions from this morning.

QUESTION: If there is no agreement coming out of today, how do you keep that amendment going down the track…

MARK VAILE: Well, it’s one of those unusual aspects of multi-lateral organisations in that it’s a consensus based decision making organisation. So nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and everybody agrees. And we have the experience in Seattle of a very difficult agenda and not being able to get convergence on issues. Post-Seattle we started this process of having these informal meeting of a core group of ministers, not the same group every time. The group of

ministers we have assembled here in Sydney are different to the group of ministers that assembled in Singapore and Mexico in the lead up to the Doha meeting last year. If we have more of these meetings next year they will be a different group of ministers again. But always focused on injecting political momentum to the process, and therefore giving very direct guidance to our ambassadors in Geneva.

For example the issue of access to medicines we’ve instructed and will be instructing our ambassadors in Geneva to focus on the fine tuning that needs to be done after the convergence of opinions here to achieve the outcome by the end of this year.

And that is a framework that will give access to the poorer countries of the world for much needed medicines to try and address the epidemic advance of particularly HIV AIDS where we’ve heard this morning of some Sub-Saharan African countries now their population, 31 per cent of the population of Lesotho is suffering from the HIV AIDS virus.

This is not an economic issue. This is a moral obligation that needs to be undertaken by the developed world.

QUESTION: What’s the basis of the agreement that the agreement…

MARK VAILE: Well, you know, it is a very complicated process. There are a range of issues that have been worked on during the course of this year in Geneva. And remember there was a very clear instruction given out of Doha that this issue be dealt with by the end of 2002. We’ve got a clear deadline. That deadline is now in sight. There’s an outcome in sight that will address the concerns of the developed countries and the protection of intellectual property, the ability to be able to produce much-needed drugs at an affordable rate and nominate and identify countries that should get access to those, and ensure an environment where there’s not diversion, where those drugs - that have been sold into the developing countries - are not going to be diverted back into wealthy markets.

QUESTION: Which countries benefit and what drugs, and what and what areas will be targeted?

MARK VAILE: As a general comment - because these are some of the fine-tuning issues - in terms of whether you either self-nominate or there is an arbitrary line drawn, in terms of least developed and developing countries. Obviously, developed countries should automatically exclude themselves from this process, and that’s the work that needs to be done between now and the end of the year, in terms of identifying the countries that should get access; that should be able to import in this way; and so, that’s some of the very important work that needs to be done. Identified in the mandate out of Doha was the ability to be able to address this issue of epidemic proportion diseases and types of diseases identified, in general terms, HIV-AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis.

QUESTION: So, without, say, a formal agreement - obviously, no formal agreement, but a broad consensus broad agreement has been struck?

MARK VAILE: Out of this meeting, there is much more confidence that we’ve moved forward on addressing the critical issues - that’s what meetings like these do - they give a focal point in time to start drawing together different positions on issues. This has happened here in Sydney. It just needs now that - a very complex arrangement can be documented and put in place by the end of the year. This meeting of ministers that, actually, represent 80 per cent of global GDP - is

represented in this room here in Sydney - have shown great flexibility in addressing what is an enormous problem in the developing world.

QUESTION: Did you get very far in agriculture?

MARK VAILE: We are - as I said - we’re part-way through the agenda item on market access that covers the three critical areas of market access. And, bearing in mind, this is core business for the WTO. Market access is the core business of the WTO. Market access in agriculture, in industrial goods, and in services. We’re involved in that discussion now. A lot of the interventions are focusing on meeting the deadlines that have been set for next year; at the end of March for agriculture and services; and the end of May for industrials. But we will spend the next section of our meeting this afternoon discussing the market access issues.

QUESTION: Has there been any criticism of the EU for back-sliding on agricultural protection problem?

MARK VAILE: No. This forum works in a very positive and constructive way in looking forward, and looking at what needs to be done. What sorts of issues need to be addressed to get all members moving forward. This is always a constructive and positive forum. The interventions, so far, have been, in terms of encouraging all countries to meet those scheduled details that were set in the Doha mandate.

QUESTION: Are you confident that progress on agricultural reform will begin in March next year as planned?

MARK VAILE: I’m very confident that it will, for two reasons: that the overwhelming majority of countries have this as a top priority issue. Every member country of the WTO endorsed the mandate on agriculture in Doha and, again, this is the Doha development agenda. The focus of this agenda is overwhelmingly on delivering benefits to the developing world. And the first, and most principled stance we can take, is to give better market access to the developed countries of the world, to the rich markets of the world, to help them lift their economies and, therefore, the living standards of their people.

QUESTION: Have the Japanese and the Americans got that message?

MARK VAILE: The message is being delivered by some, and received by some, and, certainly, the message is in this meeting and the message will be taken back to Geneva.

QUESTION: How confident are you the fine-tuning will happen in Geneva within schedule?

MARK VAILE: With regard to the TRIPS and public health, look, the spirit in which the discussions took place this morning was overwhelmingly positive. The spirit is there to deliver on this commitment out of Doha last year. The spirit is there to deliver this confidence-building measure to the developed world. The significant change that has taken place in the attitude and the disposition of the WTO between the Seattle meeting, the Doha meeting, and post-Doha, is a much better level of understanding, appreciation and empathy of the circumstances of the developing world. And this meeting - I’m sure you will see by the end of the year - will be recorded as the epitome of that. One more question.

QUESTION: But it’s not in the bag yet?

MARK VAILE: Well, look, you know, it’s one of those things where you work within this environment, and the commitments and undertakings given by ministers, and the sense of the discussion, certainly, in terms of the amount of convergence in positions, obviously, indicates to me - having been involved in this organisation for a number of years - that we will deliver on that, and I feel very confident about that, and clear instructions will be taken back to Geneva in that regard. Okay, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll talk to you a bit later.

Thank you.