News conference by Dmitry Medvedev on the outcome of the APEC summit and his visit to Vietnam

The Prime Minister answered questions from the Russian media.

Excerpts from the transcript:

Dmitry Medvedev’s news conference following his visits to Papua New Guinea and Vietnam

Question: You have said during the talks with the Prime Minister of Vietnam that the atmosphere in Hanoi was better than at the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in Papua New Guinea, which made me think of the following question. The participants of the meeting in Papua New Guinea have not signed a final declaration, for the first time in the past 25 years. Could you not agree on the wording or on the essence of the document? Can the WTO be reformed if its main members cannot agree on the wording? Whose side did Russia take in this dispute?

Dmitry Medvedev: I do not want to offend our friends from Papua New Guinea. They did their utmost to prepare their country, which is not among the best developed country in the world, for this event. We really appreciate this, but speaking about the outcome of the top-level APEC meeting is much more difficult. For the first time since the organisation’s inception, we could not coordinate a declaration. You want to know why? The reason for this is what you have asked about: difficulties in international trade, the very same trade wars that are being waged in the world, as well as the discussion that was held both on the sidelines of the APEC meeting and at the negotiating table. Unfortunately, that discussion prevented us from adopting a final document.

This document is important as the declaration of the sides’ intentions to reform the international trade system without damaging the advantages offered by the WTO. The worst part is not that we have not coordinated a final declaration, but that this is what I was talking about, to a degree, during the business part of the summit. Regrettably, the international trade system has been put in jeopardy by some countries’ decisions. Speaking bluntly, the problem is rooted in the decisions taken by one of our partners, the United States. Everything looks rather difficult now.

Of course, we are ready to hold talks on this subject. If we look at the situation directly and honestly, what will we see? If we cannot coordinate a declaration, how can we reform the WTO? It comprises a huge amount of standards, rules and principles, as well as practical actions regarding some problems. One complaint about the WTO is that its dispute settlement process, or arbitration, is imperfect and that we need to improve it. But how can we reform whole institutions if we cannot even agree on a declaration? In this sense, the outcome of the APEC summit does look unconvincing, to put it very mildly.

You have asked which side Russia took. We have taken our side, the side of Russia’s national interests, national economy and, ultimately, the citizens. However, some views are more congenial to us. You know which views these are. Of course, it would be more agreeable if we could preserve the main WTO advantages and its framework while reforming its dispute settlement process. The majority of states, though not everyone, share this view. But some countries, in particular, our American partners, say that everything is fine and they do not think any changes are needed. I believe it is a misguided view. But we will see what happens next.

Question: You just used the phrase “trade war” which we now hear more and more often in the rhetoric of world leaders. Will there be any winners in this war if real fighting unfolds? Does Russia see a way out of this situation?

Dmitry Medvedev: Unlike a real hot war, trade wars are fought by other means. You asked if there are any ways to protect against this war if it unfolds. It has already begun and it’s underway. We can all see that this war has already yielded certain results for particular countries that are trying to impose their policies. However, it comes at a cost to international trade as a whole, because, ultimately, as in any other war of this kind, there can be no winners. Who will lose out? International economic relations and international trade. Indeed, one can gain a partial advantage. Introduce tariffs and support one’s own market a little. However, after a while, it will come back with a vengeance in the form of problems that will catch up with their own businessmen who engage in other endeavours. What is happening in the United States? It imposed protective tariffs on a range of products, including from China, the EU and even their closest neighbours which gave them certain advantages on the market. However, some of the goods that they used to get from Europe and China are no longer imported. The market has changed, it has become more skewed, and prices for individual items on the US market are rising. So, we are in favour of preserving free and open trade, the principles of multilateralism, or the principles of multilateral relations in trade, and consolidating these principles, but on a more modern basis. I hope that after some time we will be able to convince other states of the need to support precisely this position which has many supporters, including China, European countries and a number of other countries, such as our partners in Vietnam, where we are now staying.

Question: I have a question about Vietnam. You had talks with your colleague. Perhaps, you can share with us information about more specific projects that were discussed in restricted and expanded format and which can be implemented in the near future?

Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, we discussed almost the entire agenda. We had very productive talks. I would like to commend our colleagues and representatives of the Government of Vietnam as they prepared very well for the talks. They covered all the positions - the ones that concern them, and the ones that concern us. The agenda is very broad. As I said after the talks, our trade grew by more than 30 percent which means that the goods are supplied by both sides.

There are major projects that take time to get implemented, including energy projects. As you are aware, we have flagship projects like Vietsovpetro, which is already 35 years old and generates hundreds of millions of dollars for its participants. These are ongoing projects. Moreover, we are considering the possibility of developing new areas and new fields. We discussed all of this today and, in all likelihood, we will implement all of that.

There are relatively recent areas of cooperation. Our country is becoming a modern agrarian power. Ten or 15 years ago we had little to offer on the international food market, but have become a strong player since then. We have increased the supply of wheat and other grains to Vietnam which is very good as it is another market for our products.

On the other hand, our Vietnamese friends supply us with what grows well in their country and are objects of national pride, such as fruits, some types of vegetables and fresh fish. Today, we talked about speeding up these processes and issuing permits, including approvals by our countries’ oversight authorities. We want grocery store shelves in Russia and Vietnam filled with high-quality products from our countries at affordable prices. Since these products are supplied directly, despite the large distance between our countries they still are cheaper than what we get through third countries at exorbitant prices. So, I hope there will be results in this area as well.

Of course, there are a number of other projects which we will promote. Today, our friends from Vietnam have issued a permit for the Nuclear Research Centre. We have just exchanged corresponding documents, or rather, a certificate was issued [Certificate of approval by the Prime Minister of Vietnam for a preliminary feasibility study of the Nuclear Science and Technology Centre]. This is also indicative of the trust-based and very important relations between the two states.

Question: Including the upcoming return flight to Moscow, you will have spent about 40 hours in the air over the past few days by the time you return to Moscow. Is there really a need for traditional diplomacy, long flights and visits in our digital age? Perhaps, it should be gradually replaced with modern, increasingly popular ways of communicating with colleagues?

Dmitry Medvedev: You mean using a gadget to get in touch with a partner and saying, okay, let's do it that way and be done with it? Experience shows that it doesn’t work that way. Today, we started out discussing the APEC summit developments. Unfortunately, even a face-to-face meeting is not always enough to reach an agreement. However, during a personal meeting, the so-called chemistry develops. People see each other, feel the vibes and can say things. Some things can be discussed on the sidelines, some messages can be sent in an informal setting. Technical means do not allow for that. So, traditional diplomacy is not going anywhere, although 40-hour flights are, of course, not the easiest part of life.