Snatching apparent victory from the jaws of defeat again, the chair of the World Trade Organisation's IT Committee has rescued talks on an IT trade pact.
Martin Harvey of New Zealand has submitted a list of 200 products to members of the committee, pushing for them to be included in an extension to the WTO's existing agreement for cutting tariffs on technology products worldwide.
It was the third time in six months that Harvey had persuaded warring delegates to keep talking and not cut off the apparently stalled negotiations on a new IT agreement (ITA Two). ITA One, to which 44 countries are signatories, covers tax reductions covering more than 90 per cent of world trade in IT products, but expires in 2001.
The talks have been stalled this year over haggling on which products should be included and which left out. Juggling his latest hand of the 'wishlists' of the 44 countries involved, Harvey said he had cut down an initial 400 products to 200, which he hoped could be included in ITA Two. The 44 governments were asked to report back to the WTO by 11 December with their reactions.
But even before the latest Harvey list had been sent to governments for comment, cracks were appearing in it. India said it was unhappy that the list included radar and navigational equipment and components for the construction of satellites.
And Malaysia - which earlier hinted that it might withdraw its insistence that colour TV sets, picture tubes and loud speakers be included, in exchange for other unspecified concessions - finally said that Harvey should have kept them in his list instead of dropping them.
The US and the European Union, two of the major players in the IT field, have generally adopted a low profile in the negotiations, preferring, as a European delegate said, "to accept whatever Harvey can get the traffic to bear".
Although the 20 November meeting of the ITA committee had been billed as a 'make or break' session, Harvey's optimism apparently prompted delegates to try to come up with an agreed list in yet another last ditch effort.
"We must not let the momentum of the last week slip away," Harvey exhorted delegates.
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