Dateline Geneva: After some soul-searching and hard work in key capitals around the world, talks to expand product coverage of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) have resumed this week in Geneva. There are a few notable items to highlight as the talks get underway again after three months of being in suspension.
For starters, as widely reported a week ago, the Chinese are returning to Geneva with an improved “sensitivities” list. While there is still much work to be done on that list, it’s in good enough shape for the governments to come back to the negotiating table.
A more recent step in the right direction comes from Thailand, which last Friday submitted a revised list of products that it considers sensitive. What’s good about that new list is the number of products it wants removed from the negotiating table apparently has been cut by more than 60 percent. To be sure, the Thai sensitivities list is still too large. While a few removal requests have disappeared altogether, most of them have morphed into requests for the partial removal of products (so-called ex-outs) or phased-in product tariffs cuts (so-called staging).
Another item to highlight is the tech industry has returned in force to meet with the various the negotiating teams descending on Geneva for the talks. ITI is joined this week by AdvaMed, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the Liquid Crystal Polymers Coalition, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) -- along with a number of representatives from U.S. industry.
Also in town are officials from DIGITALEUROPE, Japan Business Machine and Information System Industries Association (JBMIA), and the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA).
The news is not all entirely good. Even though the Chinese and Thais used the three-month hiatus in the talks to improve their lists, others with rather lengthy sensitivities lists have apparently done little work. It seems that Turkey, Malaysia, and a number of countries from Central America participating in the talks made little or no improvements to their lists since negotiations were suspended in July.
The aim is to get these negotiations wrapped up by the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Bali the first week of December. There is time to do that, but only if the negotiating parties are committed to an ambitious outcome. Good progress this week will be critical if we are to have an expanded ITA this year that will significantly advance product innovation and economic growth in the global tech sector.