EU seeks overhaul of global IT trade pact

European Commission says the 1996 language of the Information Technology Agreement, which keeps many IT products duty-free, needs to be updated "for the 21st century."

The European Commission has proposed a revision of the Information Technology Agreement, a trade pact that for the past decade has helped keep down prices for IT-related goods across the world.

The ITA came into being in 1996 at a World Trade Organization meeting in Singapore. The pact involved the elimination of international trade tariffs on certain products, ranging from flat-panel displays to inkjet printers. The ITA currently has 43 signatories, representing 70 members and states or customs territories.

In August this year, the United States, Japan, and Taiwan complained to the WTO that Europe was placing tariffs on three particular types of IT products they said were covered in the ITA. These included "cable and satellite boxes that can access the Internet, flat-panel computer monitors, and computer peripherals such as printers, copiers, faxes, and scanners."

The European Commission fought back, blocking the establishment of a dispute resolution panel while claiming that the increasingly converged nature of technology meant that the goods with tariffs had a larger range of functions than the product types covered by the original ITA.

On Monday, the Commission proposed to the WTO a revision and expansion of the ITA, which the Commission claims would see the terms of the agreement become less product-specific and more in tune with current technological trends.

"The ITA remains a milestone duty-free agreement," said EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. "But it risks being left behind, after 12 years of technological development. We need an ITA for the 21st century that will continue to benefit our consumers and businesses."

In a statement, the Commission said it was "seeking a prompt launch and conclusion of negotiations to update the ITA within a matter of months, not years."

The Commission told the WTO that it wants to see a full review of the products covered in the ITA, the inclusion of major producers of IT products that are "still outside the ITA," and the establishment of "effective mechanisms to keep the agreement up-to-date and to ensure that in the future, it takes into account technological development and convergence."

The WTO had not, at the time of writing, responded to the Commission's proposals.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

 

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