Major European trade associations have written to Vice-Premier Ma Kai calling on China to restart talks on expanding the scope of a global pact to remove tariffs on a range of information and communications technology products. Negotiations were suspended on November 21 after China declined to make further concessions on the number of products it wanted excluded from an expanded Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a tariff-cutting scheme established in 1996 under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). However, Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, a Brussels-based think tank, said any effort to revive ITA talks this month is not realistic. "The negotiations are now effectively over, as China has made its choice," he told the South China Morning Post . In a letter sent to Ma late on Friday, four European trade groups requested that China "substantially reduce" the number of information and communications technology products on its "sensitivities" list, which included items for longer tariff phase-out periods. The Ministry of Commerce seems unable to convince domestic protectionist interests that China needs to promote a policy for its technological upgrade and economic growth Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, European Centre for International Political Economy "Constructive compromises, in the spirit of balanced giving and taking, are needed to achieve a commercially significant outcome, which would bring concrete benefits to the European Union and China alike," the letter said. "Important progress has been made already, and an agreement is now within reach. We hope the remaining stumbling blocks that currently undermine the advancement of the ITA talks will be successfully addressed to achieve the ambitious, comprehensive agreement that was originally contemplated." The trade groups were DigitalEurope, representing the continent's digital technology industry; BusinessEurope, acting on behalf of companies of all sizes from various industries; the European Semiconductor Industry Association; and Semi Europe, which serves the manufacturing supply chain for the micro- and nano-electronics industries. China, which joined the ITA in 2003, was among 27 participants in Geneva last month trying to broaden the agreement's scope. 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. The negotiations tabled about 250 additional products to the 190 duty-free items originally covered by the ITA, which was created to abolish import tariffs to stimulate trade. China, which had about 140 items on its sensitivities list, demanded that 57 products be excluded from the expanded ITA. Many of the other trading partners involved in the talks also had products they wanted excluded from a broader ITA, but none on a scale of China's list, according to DigitalEurope. The US sought to exclude one item: fibre-optic cables. Japan did not want anything excluded. The ITA's "core list" does not include recent innovations, including video-game consoles, smartphones, media tablets and advanced semiconductors. "China's demands for exclusion are cluttered by low-value parts and components that every economy must import to effectively export products of higher value," Lee-Makiyama said. "The Ministry of Commerce seems unable to convince domestic protectionist interests that China needs to promote a policy for its technological upgrade and economic growth." Expansion of the ITA would slash tariffs on about US$1 trillion in annual global sales - about 7 per cent of total world trade, according to estimates by the European Commission. In a statement released on November 24, Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng blamed the debacle in the ITA talks on the US. Gao said the terms sought by the US "were far beyond" what the mainland's industry can bear. "I need to stress that the development levels of the [ITA] participants are different," Gao said. He said it was "unacceptable for China" that the US "ignored the appeal of Chinese enterprises", which still needed to boost competitiveness globally. Despite the suspension of ITA talks for the second time this year, Gao said there was a way forward. "All the participants should make joint efforts in the right direction, finding a way out and reaching agreement as soon as possible," he said.