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Howard Has Trade Talks With World Leaders In Davos

This is the transcript of the doorstop interview given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the World Economic Forum Congress Centre in Davos, Switzerland.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well today I had bilateral meetings with Bob Zoellick, who is the new US Deputy Secretary of State, still Trade Representative, the Foreign Minister of Iran, and also the Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist. In addition to that I participated in the BBC world debate, along with sundry other people, including John McCain and Joe Biden and the Secretary General of the Arab League and a cross section of commentators and other political figures. I specifically raised in that my concern about the need for America and Europe to work together to make the Doha round a success, there was a lot of criticism from the Europeans about the Americans over a number of issues and some people were calling for areas where there could be co-operation and I suggested that I hope that one area they might co-operate was to remove some of the agricultural protections and that would work very much to the advantage of developing countries and obviously Australia has a vested interest in that, but quite separately from our interest there’s a very big developing country interest in that. That’s all I want to say, any questions?

JOURNALIST:

How did that go down, that sort of suggestion?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Europeans didn’t say much about it.

JOURNALIST:

And the Americans?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the discussion kept going on other issues, they were very focused on aspects of the interaction between Europe and the United States.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned that there hasn’t been much happening since the July breakthrough agreement on the Doha round?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am, and I don’t think this wheat development is helpful, I think it’s very unhelpful. I said something about that to some of you earlier today and I think it’s…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we don’t want to accelerate the (inaudible). Well Bob Zoellick and I talked about that, he said (inaudible), and he’s moving out of the trade area very shortly, but he’s still very committed to bringing it about but he recognises what an enormous administrative challenge it is. It’s complicated not only by the normal barriers to movement but it’s also complicated by the fact that it’s not just the Americans and the Europeans, although they’re the major players, there are other players in it as well. I think we can continue through our role in the Cairns group to have a positive influence.

JOURNALIST:

What came out of your talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we talked about the importance of keeping a dialogue going between our two countries and I think that is important, we’ve kept a good diplomatic relationship with Iran, we have quite a good trade relationship, I encouraged Iran to work closely with the three European countries in relation to nuclear matters.

JOURNALIST:

Because of Australia’s diplomatic relationship with Iran do you see your and Australia’s role as perhaps a lead role on behalf of the international community on issues like the…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the lead role in that should be taken by the three European countries, I think what, I mean I made the point that there should be full co-operation and full compliance by Iran with the understandings that have been reached with the three European countries.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of a lifeline or lifespan does the European negotiation with Iran have do you think? I mean the country claims that it will have nuclear proficiency by next year, does that…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am hopeful that that initiative, those three countries can bring about a result that we all find acceptable.

JOURNALIST:

The key agenda for this forum is poverty, addressing these problems of poverty in the third world. What’s going to be your contribution to that debate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the biggest thing the developed world can do to alleviate poverty is to remove trade barriers. The benefits of that are infinitely greater than benefits from direct aid, direct aid works well in some cases, in many other cases because of poor governance it works very badly.

JOURNALIST:

There are (inaudible) importers though.

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

There are countries that are net agricultural importers who would not necessarily benefit from…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no that’s true, there are some, that’s quite true.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the global launch against poverty today highlighted not only the trade issue you’re talking about but also the key issue of third world debt relief. I know that you’ve had some concerns in the past, particularly over the tsunami, about whether or not that debt relief actually helps people on the ground I guess. Is that your concern about where that debate’s going?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well sovereign debt relief in the short term rewards the treasuries of the indebted countries and unless there’s a guarantee that that is then channeled to poverty alleviation it can be very unproductive, but that’s not to say we’re opposed to all debt relief, we have involved ourselves in programmes helping the highly indebted developing countries. But the principle applies whether you’re dealing with a tsunami situation or not.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, there are two proposals that (tape break) tax on everything from plane tickets to secret financial transactions. Can I ask you what you think of that, and secondly that’s a proposal that’s been supported today by Gerhard Schroeder who has also supported Gordon Brown’s proposal of establishing a monetary fund to bring forward the goals of the millennium goals. Can I ask you what you think of each of those proposals?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’d like to study President Chirac’s proposal.

JOURNALIST:

That’s what Tony Blair said.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn’t know that, but there you go.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that they’re interesting proposals, ones that you might favour?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not normally attracted to proposals for new taxes.

JOURNALIST:

And Gordon Brown’s proposal Prime Minister, establishing an interim financial fund to which countries would contribute as they go towards 2015 rather than just sitting…

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t mean this facetiously but I would like to study that a little more carefully before I give a response.

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