ITI's John Neuffer has spent the week in Geneva as global trade negotiators focus on how best to expand the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). He sent this update on the discussions.
Despite some heavy snow in Geneva this week, WTO negotiators have been busy here with another round of technical talks to expand the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), an initiative aimed at completely eliminating tariffs on a whole new range of tech products that will spur growth, jobs, and innovation.
The talks are picking up steam and focus since they began last summer. To start with, the core group of countries developing the product list for inclusion in the ITA has grown to 18 this week, adding Israel, which joins the United States, Japan, China, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, the European Union, and a host of other developed and developing economies.
U.S. industry has also been out in force supporting this round of talks. In addition to ITI, making the trans-Atlantic crossing this week were representatives from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Retailer Industry Leaders Association (RILA), and the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), along with representatives from several of our groups' member companies. We should add that an industry delegation led by DigitalEurope is in town this week as well.
Our coalition has been meeting with numerous ITA member countries, underscoring our strong support for getting these talks done by the end of the summer and stressing that the package of products added to the agreement must be ambitious and commercially meaningful. The ITA has not had a single new tariff line added to it in 16 years, despite the waves of new and innovative tech products that have swept onto the scene since the agreement was established. Flat panel televisions, Bluetooth devices, GPS systems, smart meters, and game consoles are a few of the products being considered for inclusion in the agreement.
In addition, the talks are taking an important pivot this week. During the past several months, negotiators have been assembling something called the “Consolidated List,” which amounts to a wish list of products countries want in the ITA. That list of more than 350 product lines has served as a useful starting point, but negotiators are now turning to the more serious business of winnowing out items that are not necessarily IT products and beginning some of the horse trading that is an inevitable part of all trade negotiations.
What’s next? Negotiations are set to convene each month in Geneva now through the spring. We’ll be out here again as necessary to show our strong industry backing for the agreement. Additionally, we will also be turning to APEC, which Indonesia is hosting this year, to ramp up its support for ITA expansion. Recall, APEC played a critical role in the launch of the agreement in 1997. APEC trade ministers meet April 20-21 in Surabaya, Indonesia. We will be calling on them to muscle up and advocate for the swift conclusion a robust expansion of the ITA.
As one of our delegates said this week, ITA expansion is a “no-brainer.” It’s achievable. ITA members don’t even need to create a new agreement. All they are doing is making a good agreement even better by adding products. It will yield immediate and substantial benefits. By one good estimate, the resulting tariff elimination would lead to increased global GDP to the tune of $190 billion. And it will bring significant benefits to both developed and developing economies, spurring growth, creating jobs, and boosting productivity around the world.
WTO negotiators have not closed on a major market liberalization deal for some years now. With ITA expansion, there is growing excitement in this town that while there is still much work ahead, the dry spell may finally be coming to an end.