China's hard stance threatens to derail tariff talks

Beijing's representatives in Geneva refuse to narrow a list of products that it wants excluded from a deal or have extended tariff phase-outs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 1:57am

Negotiations to expand a global pact to remove tariffs on a range of information and communications-technology products took a step backwards as China - the world's biggest exporter of such goods - remained unwilling to compromise.

Trade representatives from around the world are in Geneva in a last-ditch attempt to widen the scope of products covered by the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a tariff-cutting scheme established by a group of World Trade Organisation members in 1996.

Negotiations were set to conclude yesterday.

China on Tuesday refused to narrow down its "sensitivities" list of about 140 products, which it wants excluded from the negotiations or to have longer tariff phase-out periods.

The ITA talks have tabled about 250 products for duty-free treatment.

"All the delegations here … are working extremely hard to make compromises and are showing ever-increasing amounts of ambition - except China," John Neuffer, the senior vice-president for global policy at US-based advocacy group the Information Technology Industry Council, wrote in his blog post from Geneva.

A broad coalition of hi-tech trade associations and companies are also in Geneva for this year's ninth round of ITA negotiations, which started last week.

About 70 WTO member-countries are party to the ITA, and account for 97 per cent of global trade in information and communications-technology products.

Despite signalling early last week that it would be flexible on certain products, "China continues to insist that over 60 products be removed from the negotiating table, far more than anyone else," Neuffer said.

Yu Jianhua, China's deputy trade representative, cancelled nearly all of his meetings last week in Geneva, as Beijing's delegation stood firm on its list.

Thailand, Malaysia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Israel and other countries have been credited for making necessary concessions. A deal from this round would lead to a final agreement being completed at the WTO ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, early next month.

"So the level of frustration with China's refusal to give ground is generating deep feelings of frustration, especially since China stands to be one of the greatest beneficiaries of ITA expansion," Neuffer said.

The ITA's "core list" of products, which has not been updated, does not include recent innovations, including video-game consoles, smartphones, media tablets and advanced semiconductors. An expanded ITA could cut tariffs on an additional US$800 billion in IT and communications-technology trade globally, up 20 per cent over the US$4 trillion now covered annually, the Information Technology Industry Council said.