China demands keep parties at table for IT deal

Trade negotiators push on with talks in Geneva to expand global agreement on removing tariffs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 1:44am

With China taking a hard stand on concessions, negotiators have agreed to extend until Friday talks on expanding a global pact to remove tariffs on a range of information and communications technology products.

“The good news is that virtually all the brush has been cleared for getting a strong deal this week,” John Neuffer, senior vice-president for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, a US-based advocacy group, said in a blog post from Geneva.

Neuffer said the decision was made at an ambassadors’ meeting late on Wednesday in Geneva. The negotiations had been scheduled to conclude on Wednesday.

Trade representatives from around the world are in the city in a last-ditch effort to broaden the scope of products covered by the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a tariff-cutting scheme established under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1996.

The Information Technology Industry Council – the members of which include Apple, Lenovo and Samsung Electronics – is part of a coalition of hi-tech trade associations and companies that are in Geneva for this year’s ninth round of ITA negotiations.

... virtually everyone else is nearly good to go, except China
John Neuffer, Information Technology Industry Council

Since this final round started last week, China, which joined the ITA in 2003, has refused to pare down the number of items on its “sensitivities” list, which includes products it wants excluded from the talks or to have longer tariff phase-out periods.

The ITA has tabled about 250 products for duty-free treatment, while China has about 140 on its sensitivities list.

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. China is the largest exporter of such goods.

Neuffer said Turkey and a few small players “have sensitivities lists that still need work. But virtually everyone else is nearly good to go, except China”.

A deal reached in this round of ITA talks is expected to lead to a final agreement to be completed at the WTO ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, from December 3 to 6.

The European Union, which has been hosting this round of ITA talks at its WTO mission in Geneva, may bring up the global pact’s expansion at the 16th EU-China Summit in Beijing on Thursday, according to a report by World Trade Online.

The summit is the first bilateral meeting between the EU and China’s new leadership, led by Premier Li Keqiang. The EU is China’s biggest economic partner, with almost half a trillion euros’ worth of trade between the two markets last year.