Expansion of the Information Technology Agreement: The Time Is Right
Next week, leaders from 21 economies from around the Pacific-rim will converge on Beijing, China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum leaders' summit on November 10-11.
Since its inception in 1989, APEC has been at the forefront of expanding trade and investment in the region, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the organization. I cannot think of a better time and place for a clear statement regarding the importance of trade and investment in the region through a commitment to complete the negotiations to expand the World Trade Organization (WTO) Information Technology Agreement (ITA) this year.
As the economy hosting and chairing the APEC leaders' summit, China is uniquely positioned to pave the way towards a strong statement to conclude the ITA expansion negotiations by the end of the year. Many of the member economies in APEC, including China, are major manufacturers and exporters of information and communication technology (ICT) products so there are economic and commercial imperatives to lower the trade costs for these products.
Of possibly more significance is the opportunity to inject some positive momentum into the WTO multilateral trading system with a solid win, which is sorely needed after the disappointing hold-up this summer of the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
It has been 17 years since the ITA was originally concluded and innovation in the tech industry has proceeded at a furious pace during that time period. However, the expansion of the ITA is about more than just updating and expanding the agreement to lowering the cost of ICTs to businesses and consumers around the world – it is also about enhancing the diffusion of these products, which contribute to the success of all other industry sectors and the betterment of society through new and unique applications of ICT products and their underlying technologies.
What better way for China, as chair of APEC in 2014, to put an exclamation mark on APEC's 25th anniversary than by reinforcing APEC as the premier forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region by jump-starting the process to conclude the expansion of the ITA this year. By all accounts, this would be a win-win outcome for China.
China can lead the organization towards a significant deliverable during its year as APEC host and at the same time enhance global trade in the ICT sector for the benefit of its manufacturers.
Global attention will be on China next week to see if it is willing to show the leadership that it is capable of through a meaningful commitment by APEC to complete the critically important expansion of the ITA by year-end.