The Time is Right to Restart the Negotiations to Expand the Information Technology Agreement
I mentioned in a previous blog post that May is World Trade Month; it is also the month in which the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), Chaired by China this year, will hold its annual meeting of “Ministers Responsible for Trade” in Qingdao, China from May 17-18. For those that are not familiar with APEC, it is a group of 21 economies that surround the Pacific-Rim. These economies include both developed and developing economies. While their economies are at different stages of development, they do share a fundamental goal through their membership in APEC – “[APEC’s] primary goal is to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region”.
The economies in APEC recognize the critical role that free and open trade and investment plays in each of their economies’ goal of sustained economic growth. We’ve seen APEC take a leadership role in a number of areas to address policies and practices to liberalize trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region. Arguably none more important than its efforts in 1995 when APEC Trade Ministers met in Singapore and played a pivotal role in launching one of the most economically significant trade agreements for the information and communication technology (ICT) industry – the World Trade Organization (WTO) Information Technology Agreement (ITA).
The ITA was concluded in 1996 and has been a major force in the expansion of global ICT manufacturing investment, decreased costs, and expanded access to ICT products for businesses and consumers around the world. The Agreement does this by eliminating import tariffs on a wide variety of ICT products and sub-components. It has been 18 years since the ITA was concluded, and the global ICT industry has been busy since then developing new and innovative products. So we were very encouraged by the negotiations to expand and update the ITA, which were close to being concluded in November 2013.
Unfortunately, the negotiations to expand the ITA have been stalled for six months now due to what many perceive to be a lack of ambition by China on the scope of ICT products that should be included in an expanded and updated ITA. It’s critical that the negotiating parties work towards a commercially significant list of products for coverage under an expanded ITA so that the updated Agreement can build on the economic and societal benefits from the original ITA. As mentioned, it’s been 18 years since the conclusion of the original ITA.
In a statement, Global industry is asking APEC, and China as APEC Chair, to once again take on the important task of helping to restart the negotiations to expand and update the ITA (link). It’s time for the APEC Trade Ministers to reprise the critical role that they played in 1995 and jump-start these negotiations towards a commercially significant outcome through meaningful and constructive engagement among the negotiating parties. We are hopeful that APEC can be true to its fundamental principles of sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the region by taking advantage of the opportunity in Qingdao where APEC Trade Ministers will be meeting.
Eric Holloway is the Director for International and Government Affairs at the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).