The United States, with its IT industry breathing down the government's neck, failed again today to win acceptance by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of a new and expanded agreement on trade liberalisation in information technology equipment.
The new agreement would cover products worth as much as $1 billion, but the WTO talks have been stalled for almost a year because of the reluctance of countries such as India and Malaysia to get involved.
Industry representatives, led by a group of companies including Motorola, Compaq and NCR, have been insisting on action by the WTO however. In an effort to keep the talks alive, the US delegation proposed at today's meeting that a new agreement be put on the back burner.
Washington will meanwhile try to convince the holdouts in private discussions to change their opinion. At the same time, the US proposed that the WTO call a public symposium on the information technology issue at which the companies could present their own arguments.
As a governmental organisation the WTO has up to now excluded private sector participation, but WTO officials said Wednesday they would consider the American proposal.
The Asian countries claim that the product list now under review for the ITA does not include many of their priority items, such as colour television tubes, loudspeakers and other consumer electronics items.
The European Union has been against inclusion of TV picture tubes in the list largely because manufacturers in France, Germany and the Netherlands want to protect themselves from Japanese and US competition.
There is also disagreement over radar and navigational equipment and satellite parts, which India opposed inclusion of and Canada, Israel Norway and the US - all of which manufacture them - want them in.
The original ITA, signed in 1997, called for removal of all duties on about 90 per cent of global trade in high tech items such as semiconductors and software, worth more than $600 billion a year.
If agreement can be reached on new products, as the US and the European Union would like, this figure would rise to as much as a billion dollars. Prices of IT equipment would also drop considerably, although the WTO does not like to put a figure on this.
With debate on this subject now effectively put on the back burner, Australia has suggested the WTO committee ought to be discussing non tariff barriers to IT trade, presumably a less controversial subject. The committee will come back on this idea at its next meeting on 20 April.
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