The European Union has taken an important step in affirming the ongoing vitality and integrity of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA) by completing its legislative process to eliminate duties on key high-tech products covered by the ITA – a welcome move following a WTO decision against the EU in 2010.
In a dispute-settlement case jointly pursued by the United States, Japan, and Taiwan, a WTO panel ruled three years ago that the EU was violating its ITA commitments by applying duties on flat-panel displays, set-top boxes, and multi-function printers. A WTO panel affirmed then that the ITA must be implemented in a technology-neutral manner, and that innovations in technology are not an excuse to apply new duties to products covered by the agreement.
The EU had earlier taken steps to comply with this panel decision with respect to some of the products in the case, but last Thursday it finally enacted a regulation to ensure that all flat panel displays that work with computers receive the promised, duty-free treatment. U.S. industry will monitor carefully how this new regulation and other relevant measures are implemented.
This progress, together with Russia’s joining the ITA earlier this month, reinforces the strength and integrity of the trade pact. Governments should seize on this progress to make the ITA even stronger by completing negotiations this year to significantly expand the range of tech products covered.
Not a single additional product line has been added to the ITA since it was launched in 1996. It’s high time to remedy this situation and make 2013 a truly banner year for the ITA.
The ITA is has yielded enormous benefits for the information and communications technology sector and for consumers. It was designed to foster innovation, growth, and jobs by ensuring open trade in a wide range of tech products. An agreement that captures significantly more products will give even greater meaning to those original objectives.