Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: INTRODUCTION

Information Technology Agreement — introduction

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See also:
Information Technology Symposium, 18-19 October 2004
Schedules of concessions for tariff reductions by ITA signatory countries

 


The Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products (ITA) was concluded at the Singapore Ministerial Conference in December 1996. At that time 29(1) (including the 15 EC member states) countries or separate customs territories signed the declaration. However, it was still unclear at that time whether the provisions of the Declaration would come into effect, as the Declaration stipulated that participants representing approximately 90 percent of world trade would have to notify their acceptance of the ITA by 1 April 1997. The original 29 signatories did not reach this 90 percent trade coverage criteria, as they collectively only accounted for 83 percent of world trade in information technology (IT) products. However, in the ensuing months after the Singapore Ministerial and leading up to 1 April 1997, a number of other countries(2) expressed an interest in becoming participants in the ITA and notified their acceptance. Thus, the 90 percent criteria had been met and the ITA entered into force with the first staged reduction in tariffs occurring on 1 July 1997. The current list of participants can be found here.

 

Basic Principles of the ITA  back to top

The ITA is solely a tariff cutting mechanism. While the Declaration provides for the review of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), there are no binding commitments concerning NTBs. There are three basic principles that one must abide by to become an ITA participant: 1) all products listed in the Declaration must be covered, 2) all must be reduced to a zero tariff level, and 3) all other duties and charges (ODCs) must be bound at zero. There are no exceptions to product coverage, however for sensitive items, it is possible to have an extended implementation period. The commitments undertaken under the ITA in the WTO are on an MFN basis, and therefore benefits accrue to all other WTO Members.

 

The ITA today  back to top

The Committee of Participants on the Expansion of Trade in Information Technology Products

After the ITA came into being, the participants saw the need to establish a formal Committee under the WTO to carry out the provisions of the Declaration. The document on Implementation of the Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products (hereinafter “Implementation” document, G/L/160) sets out the establishment of the Committee. The Committee held its first meeting on 29 September 1997, and there have been approximately five formal meetings per year of the Committee since that time. The Committee has established rules of procedure (G/IT/3, MS Word format, 3 pages, 100KB, opens in a new window, see download guide) which are similar to other WTO bodies and typically has a diverse agenda of matters relating to the ITA.

Ongoing Work of the Committee

In addition to the topic of product coverage, mentioned below, the Committee has worked on a number of issues since its inception. These include the examination of classification divergences, consultations on non-tariff barriers, invoking new participants, and discussing implementation matters (MS word format, 4 pages, 32KB, opens in a new window, see download guide).

ITA II

The Ministerial Declaration and the Implementation document provides that participants will periodically review the product coverage (often termed ITA II) specified in the Attachments to the Declaration. The first review commenced in October 1997 when participants were invited to submit lists of additional information technology products for possible additional tariff concessions. In 1998, participants continued to discuss the lists, provide clarification, exchange views, and negotiate with a view to making a decision on whether to revise the Attachments by 30 June 1998. However, no agreement could be reached at that time, and the process continued throughout 1998. At subsequent meetings of the Committee, still no agreement could be reached and to date there has been no products added to the original coverage. Consultations between delegations on the review of product coverage continue.

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> Consult the Guide to downloading files

Notes:

1: These include: Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, European Communities, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland (including Liechtenstein), Turkey, and the United States. back to text

2: These include: Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Estonia, India, Israel, Macau China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Thailand. In addition, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippines, and Poland submitted schedules by 1 April 1997 but these were not approved at the time. However, all four of these countries have subsequently become ITA participants in either 1997 or 1998. back to text