China accused of stalling global tech trade pact

Consumer Electronics Association chides the Asian economic powerhouse for holding up negotiations to expand a global pact that eliminates tariffs on technology products, with its request to exclude over 100 products.

A U.S. consumer group has accused China of holding up negotiations for a new technology trade pact with its request to remove over 100 Chinese products. 


Sage Chandler, vice president for international trade at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), said the Asian economic powerhouse is asking for the removal of more than 100 products amid ongoing negotiations regarding an update to the 1996 Information Technology Agreement (ITA). According to a Reuters report Tuesday, Chandler said these exclusions "cannot be viewed as meaningful effort".

First established by 29 participants at the Singapore Ministerial Conference in December 1996, the ITA looks to completely eliminate tariffs on IT products covered under the agreement including semiconductors, software, data storage media, and computers. It has since been extended to 70 participants which represent some 97 percent of world trade in IT products, including India, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan. Developing country participants are given extended periods for some products. 

Discussions have been ongoing to expand the ITA to include consumer goods such as speakers and headsets, and flat-screen televisions, and it is hoped an agreement will be reached in Geneva this week.

However, China's request to exclude so many products may stall negotiations, Chandler said. "The Chinese position should be responsible, with a serious but limited list of products it wishes to exclude from lower tariffs."

In a blogpost, John Neuffer, senior vice president at U.S. industry group IT Industry Council, said China's exclusion list could significantly "dilute" the initiative and represents "a major roadblock" to a successful outcome. The country's list called for the exclusion of 106 products, he said, noting that the entire ITA core product list has about 260 products. China currently has 148 products on the proposed list.

The Asian nation, though, has yet to submit a revised "sensitivities list" to the ITA negotiating group, when others have, Neuffer said. Costa Rica and Israel, for instance, have reduced their number of product sensitivities, he said, adding that China would stand to enjoy significant benefits from the ITA expansion.

"But China is not sending signals it's prepared to move. The topic of its giant list came up last week when dozens of senior Chinese government officials were in Washington to attend the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue," he explained. "The body language and messaging from Beijing were less than encouraging. And now we understand China's negotiating team may not arrive Geneva until Tuesday evening, a full two days after the talks have commenced."

According to the Reuters report, 15 of the 20 WTO negotiators involved in the meeting this week voted to suspend discussions unless China revises its list and return with a more reasonable offer. Should the country not respond by Thursday, negotiations will be halted, an ambassador told Reuters. 

When a list of 256 products on which to cut tariffs has been drafted, countries will be asked to identify any "sensitive" items they want excluded from the agreement or reserve for extended tariff phase-outs.

Thailand had the next highest number of sensitivities products at 68, followed by El Salvador with 62, the ambassador said. The EU listed 10  the United States had one.