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14 December 1998
Participants agree to resume ITA II talks in February 1999

The Committee of Participants on the Expansion of Trade in Information Technology Products, on 11 December, agreed to resume negotiations on expanding the coverage of the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA) in the week of 22 February 1999.

The acting Committee Chairman, Ambassador Ronald Saborio Soto (Costa Rica), noted that at the meeting, 35 out of a total of 44 ITA participants (the EC counting as 15) have indicated they could accept a draft ITA II list of additional products proposed by a number of delegations last month; two participants have said they could not accept the proposal; and two participants said they needed more time.

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The participants that supported the ITA II proposal were the following: Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, the European Communities, Hong Kong (China), Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Norway, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Singapore, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Turkey, the United States, Chinese Taipei and Estonia.

Many of these participants said that the compromise ITA II proposal represented a modest but balanced package that would mark a positive step forward for the WTO amidst the financial crisis. They urged the rapid completion of ITA II work so that the Committee could move ahead on other aspects of its work programme, including dealing with non-tariff measures on IT products. A number of them stressed their objection to the inclusion of so-called "electronic consumer goods". Several participants signalled they would need an extended time-period for eliminating tariffs on certain proposed products.

Malaysia said that as the proposal did not include the products it had requested, it could not agree to the list unless substantial changes were made. India expressed serious concern that certain security-related products that it considered to be non-IT products were on the list. It stressed that there was no consensus on the proposal, adding that unless fundamental changes were made, continuing on with the ITA II talks was not feasible.

El Salvador said that intensive domestic consultations were still ongoing on the compromise list. The Philippines said that it was not yet in a position to accept the list as the required domestic public hearings have not yet been completed.

Aside from the resumption of the ITA II talks in February 1999, the Committee also agreed on other aspects of its work programme in the new year as proposed by Ambassador Saborio, who is also Chairman of the WTO Council for Trade in Goods:

  • The Committee will continue its efforts to ensure that non-tariff measures do not impede the free flow of information technology products. Its constructive work in the area of standards was noted.

  • The Committee will continue consultations regarding divergences in classifying IT products, noting work already undertaken on semiconductor manufacturing and testing equipment, and printed circuit board/printed wiring board manufacturing equipment.

The Committee noted that participants have undertaken consultations regarding implementation. The outcome of these consultations is reflected in the listing "Clarification of Certain Products in the Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products" of 20 November 1998.

Several participants expressed interest in convening a symposium in 1999 on information technology that would involve members of the IT community and the Committee. The Committee has not taken a decision on this initiative.