Expansion of the WTO Information Technology Agreement – Getting Across the Finish Line
The Telecommunications Industry Association was in Geneva last week along with AdvaMed, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Entertainment Software Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, the Liquid Crystal Polymer Coalition, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Semiconductor Industry Association. This coalition of high-tech companies represents a broad spectrum of manufacturers and service providers in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.
We were in Geneva last week to support the negotiations to expand the product coverage of the WTO Information Technology Agreement (or ITA). It has been 16 years since the original ITA was first agreed to by a group of visionary trade negotiators and their governments. These forward-looking individuals and governments created an agreement that eliminated tariffs on a wide range of ICT products, thereby lowering the cost and enhancing the global diffusion of ICTs to the benefit of consumers, businesses, and governments.
The visionaries of the original ITA said it best in the preamble to the agreement by recognizing:
- the key role of trade in information technology products in the development of information industries and in the dynamic expansion of the world economy;
- the goals of raising standards of living and expanding the production of and trade in goods;
- to achieve maximum freedom of world trade in information technology products;
- to encourage the continued technological development of the information technology industry on a world-wide basis; and
- the positive contribution information technology makes to global economic growth and welfare.
It is in this spirit that we were in Geneva last week – to support the efforts of a new group of visionaries that are working hard to expand the list of ICT products under the ITA, so that a new generation of ICT products can provide the same economic and societal benefits that the original ITA did 16 years ago. In the high-tech world, 16 years is a lifetime in terms of innovation, so it is vital that the expansion of the product coverage of the ITA result in an outcome that is commercially significant – one that is ambitious and broad in its inclusion of ICT products to maximize all the benefits that ICTs bring to the world.
In addition, agreement to an expanded ITA product list that is commercially significant will send the message to the world that the WTO is “back open for business.” It has been too long since the WTO delivered on its mission to open trade for the benefit of all. In these times, where economies around the world are looking for ways to stimulate economic growth, an updated and expanded ITA is one practical deliverable that can contribute to global economic growth.
This is a goal that is imminently achievable by the end of this summer, and we remain optimistic that parochial concerns spurred by protectionism will be outweighed by the potential economic and societal gains from expanding the ITA. While there was a lot of progress made last week to ensure a commercially significant list of ICT products for inclusion in an expanded ITA product list, it will become increasingly important that this work receives high-level political attention to ensure its success.
It would be a disappointment if all of the hard work over the past year to expand the ITA resulted in something less than a commercially significant outcome for all the reasons given in the original ITA. As stated earlier, the global high-tech industry is optimistic of a successful outcome – this fact is demonstrated by the growing coalition of high-tech companies and associations that were in Geneva last week to meet with delegations from many WTO members, which are all working hard to ensure the best possible outcome.
For more information please contact Eric Holloway, the Director for International & Government Affairs at TIA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.