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WTO NEWS: 1998 NEWS ITEMS

29 October 1998
Participants agree to give final push to ITA II talks

The WTO Committee of Participants on the Expansion of Trade in Information Technology Products, on 23 October, agreed to try to complete a package of additional products for tariff elimination (ITA II) in a final round of intensive negotiations that would culminate in a formal meeting on 20 November 1998 to assess the results.

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The Chairman, Mr. Martin Harvey (Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand), reported that his recent consultations had led him to believe that a deal can be achieved. He said he was encouraged that delegations were communicating and exchanging proposals, but noted that the process “could not continue forever”.

Mr. Harvey said that agreement on what could be considered a modest addition of products to the ITA I did not need a huge amount of time from delegations, but every bit of flexibility would be required to resolve the outstanding issues. He encouraged participants to conduct intensive negotiations in the days preceding the 20 November meeting.

Many delegations said they intended to participate in a constructive way to what they considered to be the final effort to concluded ITA II.

Japan said that after intensive negotiations, the participants were close to an agreement. The United States said that prospects for reaching agreement was high, adding that the forthcoming Transatlantic Dialogue and the APEC Summit could assist in providing solutions to the Geneva talks.

Switzerland said that the participants have reached a critical stage in the negotiations and that it felt confident that the divergences could be overcome. However, it said it would be difficult to extend the negotiations if no package could be achieved by November.

Norway and Australia said they remained committed to a reduced but balanced package.

Malaysia said that as proof of its flexibility in the negotiations, it had decided to withdraw some items from its request list: loudspeakers, colour television, and black and white picture tubes. It stressed that all other products in its list remained. Malaysia called on its trading partners to also show flexibility in the negotiations.

Canada said that it would contribute to moving the negotiations forward through providing more specificity regarding two products on the ITA II table: radar equipment and computer panel boards.

India said that it continued to believe that dual- or multi-use products should be removed from the ITA II list, and stressed that only information technology products should remain in the final package.

The European Communities said that the Chairman's consultations apparently did not promise a bright future for the negotiations, which coincided with its assessment of the situation. However, it was determined to pursue contacts with other participants on all levels. The EC said it was prepared to consider constructively the definition of products proposed for ITA II, which it emphasized should be as consistent as possible. It expressed moderate optimism with respect to what it considered to be the last effort in the ITA II negotiations.

The Committee also considered two other issues in its work programme—consultations on non-tariff barriers and divergences in the tariff classification of covered products—and agreed to resume serious work on them after the conclusion of ITA II.

Latvia and the Kyrgyz Republic, whose respective memberships were approved by the WTO General Council on 14 October, reported to the Committee that their ITA Schedules had been incorporated in their GATT Schedules, which were in the process of approval in their respective legislatures.

The WTO Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products (ITA) was agreed at the first WTO Ministerial Conference held in December 1996 in Singapore. It provides for participants to eliminate customs duties and other duties and charges on information technology products (contained in the annexes) by the year 2000, on an m.f.n. basis (applied to all WTO members). The ITA also provided an opportunity for participants to expand the agreement's product coverage (ITA II) through negotiations. Last February, the Committee started considering proposals in this regard from 14 participants. There are currently 44 participants to the ITA, which together account for 93 per cent of world trade in information technology products.