China pushes tariff talks close to brink

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:25am

Advocates for an expanded global pact to remove tariffs on a range of information and communications technology products hope to make a final push this week to seal a deal, despite China's inflexibility that has pushed negotiations to the brink of collapse.

Trade representatives from around the world are in Geneva for the final round of talks to broaden the scope of products covered by the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a tariff-cutting scheme which was established by a group of World Trade Organisation members in 1996.

While negotiating teams from other WTO members have made compromises and cut deals, China's delegation failed to table any revised offer at the end of talks on Friday, according to John Neuffer, a senior vice-president for global policy at US-based advocacy group Information Technology Industry Council.

"Its negotiators offered nothing new and interesting beyond the oversized sensitivities list it produced during the last round of talks in October," Neuffer wrote in a blog post from Geneva at the weekend.

China arrived at talks last week with a large "sensitivities list" of 140 products, which it wants excluded from the negotiations or have longer tariff phase-out periods.

The ITA negotiations have about 250 products being considered for duty-free treatment.

"China is the largest exporter of tech goods in the world. Elimination of tariffs on those products would bring enormous benefits to Chinese industry," Neuffer said.

An expanded ITA pact could boost global gross domestic product by US$190 billion, analysts estimate.

A broad coalition of hi-tech trade associations and companies are also in Geneva for the ninth round of ITA negotiations this year. A draft deal from this round will lead to a final agreement being completed at the WTO ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, early next month.

Nearly every other country with significant sensitivities lists submitted revised versions last week, including El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia.

About 70 WTO member-countries are parties to the ITA.