A group of US companies including Compaq and NCR today won approval to table a plan for including more products in the coverage of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Information Technology Agreement.
These companies have for the last six months been lobbying in Washington DC to get the US government to get the talks at WTO headquarters here moving, but have been hampered by the fact that the WTO is a government organisation and private companies are normally not allowed access to its discussions.
The WTO's Information Technology Committee today agreed to support the idea of a symposium at which IT companies could put their views before an all too often sceptical audience of developing countries. The companies argue that the change will help rather than hinder the current deadlock over IT trade between the US and developing countries.
India and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian countries) have been the major opponents of including some 200 more products on the list of IT items to be covered by the WTO.
Thomas Abraham of Malaysia, speaking for the latter group, told the WTO committee today he wasn't necessarily opposed to having more products included in the agreement, he just wanted to know what the American companies propose.
"Let them come here and spell it out for us," Abraham said.
The current WTO Information Technology Agreement which expires next year currently covers some 90 per cent of global trade in high tech items such as semiconductors and software worth more than $600 million.
To expand it into a second agreement (ITA Two) by including some 200 more items next year, would raise this total to about $1 billion. This is what the American companies, with European support, are pushing for. But the Asian holdouts are concerned that their own embryo IT industries might be squeezed in some way if the current duty free list were expanded as western countries want
The current agreement (ITA One) has 31 members, the 15 European Union countries counting together as one.
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