Senior US and European Union trade officials are battling to convince their Asian counterparts to adopt a draft framework for free trade in information technology.
The US and EU reached agreement at the World Trade Organisation's (WTO's) first ministerial conference this week, a senior official told 'The Wall Street Journal'. However, the deal will not be made public until it has attracted support from other countries, particularly in Asia. The deal would remove tariffs on about 300 products by 2000, in any countries signing up to the plan.
The framework has been spearheaded by US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and EU Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan, who were meeting yesterday to finalise the wording of any pact. The draft deal ends weeks of negotiation between Washington and Brussels on the categories of products to be covered.
It is likely that other countries will have until April to sign up for the agreement. President Clinton has personally urged Asian trade partners to adopt a free trade plan in IT and telecomms. Talks about the latter are also in progress at the WTO.
Japan's support for a trade treaty will be particularly vital, since it is the world's largest exporter of IT products, with overseas sales likely to top $107 billion next year, according to the WTO. Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Mexico are also significant IT exporters, ranking after the US and the EU.
The IT agreement would form part of a more general trade pact expected to be signed by all 127 WTO signatories in February. However, the WTO has no powers of enforcement on its members.
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