Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rufus Yerxa's Favorite Joke

Here’s a favorite joke of World Trade Organization Deputy Director General Rufus Yerxa repeated last week by New Zealand Minister for International Trade Tim Groser –

“Rufus Yerxa arrives in Rome and is delayed iat the airport. He sits down with a WTO colleague and says I’ve got all the time in the world for you. Sit down and I will tell you about trade in the United States. You know, America is a great country. You can come from humble origins and you want to be President of the United States, you can do it. You come from a very modest family and want to become wealthy; you can do it. This country presents the greatest opportunities to become a wealthy person. You can do it.

You want to become a film star, you can get on the Greyhound bus, you go to Hollywood and get yourself an entry-level job. You can become a great film star.

You can do anything in the United States. There’s one thing you can’t do, you can’t import cheese.”


A senior trade negotiator from a major South Pacific island nation – whose chief and most known product is sheep – praised WTD’s Geneva correspondent Ravi Kanth earlier this week. The compliment came totally unsolicited by WTD. The negotiator was on his way from Great Sky, Montana to Paris to continue rescue talks on the Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations – with a brief stopover in Washington.

Ravi, the official said when I brought up the subject that WTD will be in Paris for the talks in the form of our Geneva correspondent, is the best trade reporter in Geneva. He gets on top of things there and digs to the bottom to try to make sense of it all. Not only does Ravi understands trade, but he sincerely believes in it. Ravi goes way beyond looking for a catchy quote – which flutter about in Geneva like butterfly in a Panama rain forest.

WTD agrees.

As a post script, knowing the subject and writing as if the reader also knows the subject quite often leads to trouble – in which WTD and Ravi has had their share.

Congrats, Ravi.

Jim Berger

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Bad Dinner and Bad Weather in Big Sky, Montana

Have you ever gone over to someone house for dinner – and the dinner was horrible? Discretion dictates that one does not say anything to the guest about how awful it was, but usually the conversation on the way home turns to just that.

Well – the dozen ministers gathered at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministerial meeting in Big Sky, Montana, last week were polite and temperate during the last three days of the get-together as the United States spelled out what it saw as the dismal state of affairs in Geneva. Aside from the United States and China – who were at opposite poles on how the moribund Doha Development Agenda negotiations should proceed – no one else spoke up. Several ministers grimaced when asked by WTD what they thought of the US Doha description. One prominent South Pacific minister told a couple of reporters – who he happened to meet in a bar at the Big Sky Mountain Resort – that he had made a “political decision” to keep his opinion to himself. Then he started to fume.

But in Washington earlier in the week, three of those ministers were more lively. Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson and New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser bemoaned the situation with Doha – but recognized the dismal reality as outlined US Trade Representative Ron Kirk in Montana. None pointed figures – here or there – at least publically.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu echoed what a senior Chinese trade official stated in the concluding press conference at Big Sky on Friday – that Beijing intends to support and pursue an “aggressive, comprehensive and balanced” final agreement that fully takes into account the needs of developing countries.

All three ministers participated in an informal session on Monday about APEC and Doha sponsored by the East-West Center and the US Asia-Pacific Council.
Ministers are in Paris this week to see if some type of “plan B” – less than comprehensive – solution can be had.

It was cold and rainy in Big Sky during the final two days of the ministers – when ministers actually attended. Tomorrow’s forecast for Paris is windy and partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees F. It’s going to rain Friday.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dropping the Bomb on Doha

Well – US Trade Representative Ron Kirk this morning dropped the bomb on the decade-old Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations in front of 21 liberal-leaning trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries.

In a highly "diplomatic" and meandering statement to ministers – delivered privately but later released to the public – the USTR suggested that there are several routes to deal with the Doha negotiations, but indicated that the United States would only follow one. It will get what it can in modest achievements from the talks in Geneva and then move quickly to something that has real prospects for success – such as the nine-nation TransPacific Partnership negotiations.

High-level US officials here told WTD at a ski resort in Big Sky, Montana, that there is unspoken support for the US stance on Doha from 20 other Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers who are all anxious to move ahead with TPP.

When the Uruguay Round was in similar doldrums during the first Bush Administration, then US Trade Representative Carla Hills turned full-hearted toward negotiation of a US-Canada-Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement. Fears that the United States would abandon the multilateral approach and move along bilateral and regional routes to freeing up trade were deep enough to re-spark those negotiations in 1992.

Things are a bit different now, but the strategy could amount to the same.

Doha lives?

Jim Berger

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sky High at APEC

Here I sit in the fire place lounge at the Huntley building of the Big Sky Montana lodge – not really doing nothing but taking in the atmosphere – both physical and rhetorical – of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade meetings. Both are sky high.

The press aren’t allowed in until tomorrow – Tuesday – but I’ve managed to smile my way pass the guards.

I can’t really find anything out about the specifics of the negotiations – which cover a universe of issues, from trade, small and medium size enterprises, health and medical devises and procedures. But the vibes I’m getting are all positive.

Some private sector people here – who are participating in some unique public/private sessions – are pleasantly surprised that APEC officials are not talking about the same old stale stuff – tariffs, free trade agreements or DOHA. What was discussed enthusiastically by all was lively, forward-looking and overall refreshing.

I had a very enlightening interview today – which we will publish toward the end of the week – with Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance Michael Camunez and Malaysia-based SME Corp chief executive officer Hafsah Hashim on a first-ever effort to start developing APEC-wide ethical principles on a sector-by-sector basis. The first – which trade and commerce ministers are expected to approve on Saturday – is for the medical devices sector.

On Saturday, I sat all day and observed in my limited 20 foot-by-20 foot lounge with a fire place and a coffee bar.

After six hours, I gave up and headed for the Whisky Jack bar, where – not surprisingly – I spied a couple of long-time USTR friends. The bar continued to attract other USTRs – boy they are getting a lot younger or I’m getting a lot older. The talk was over wine and beer and had nothing to do with substance, except for the normal rumors that everybody in Washington wants to know about. Sorry folks, promised that I wouldn’t even blog that.

The Whisky Jack session, however, was abruptly recessed after only four beers because the USTR folk had to go practice for tonight’s Karaoki session. Apparently, USTR has come up with APEC lyrics to a song – don’t know the tune – which will be premiered tonight. There were specific instructions that I was not to be anywhere in sight or ear shot.

Maybe substance tomorrow. But the real activities – as ministers start to arrive – are not likely until Wednesday.
Jim Berger

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Transparency -- Or Lack Thereof

Washington Trade Daily was informed yesterday by the Treasury Department – a day after World Press Freedom Day – that it has been denied press credentials to cover the much touted US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a two-day meeting beginning next week.

WTD has covered the annual event since the beginning whenever it was held in Washington or its environs.
The reason Treasury gave is the lack of room for a large contingent of reporters.
The real reason, WTD was told by one very special credentialed press member, is that Treasury wants to keep news – or lack thereof – of the gathering at a very low profile and would prefer no reporting on the critical economic issue of Chinese currency.

Only a handful of select “Treasury” correspondents will be allowed to cover the event, WTD was told.
While the United States wants to turn off the free press spigot, the Chinese – as has been the case in previous years – will likely brief its large press contingent almost continuously.

Don’t worry reader. WTD will get the information, even if it means stealing from the Chinese press.

The lack of transparency which is increasingly characterizing the Obama Administration continues to spread. In the case of trade – of which WTD has the most experience – the current US Trade Representative continues to hide his personal behind the walls at the Winder Building on 18th Street. While small private-sector organizations – both academic and ideological – continue their efforts to hold public sessions on the various aspects of US trade policy, there is seldom to be seen any participant from USTR, the Commerce Department or the Treasury Department.

The State Department has been more generous in letting its employees out to explain US trade policy. It must be noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier in the week addressed the issue of press freedom around the world.

But, as usual, I suppose the United States is the exception where general rules of the game and fair-play do not apply.

Jim Berger