EU seeks overhaul of global IT trade pact

The European Commission claims the Information Technology Agreement, which eliminates international trade tariffs for IT-related products, needs major modernisation

The European Commission has proposed a revision of the Information Technology Agreement, a trade pact that for the past decade has helped keep down prices for IT-related goods across the world.

The ITA came into being in 1996 at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Singapore. The pact involved the elimination of international trade tariffs on certain products, ranging from flat-panel displays to inkjet printers. The ITA currently has 43 signatories, representing 70 members and states or customs territories.

In August this year, the US, Japan and Taiwan complained to the WTO that Europe was placing tariffs on three particular types of IT products they said were covered in the ITA. These included "cable and satellite boxes that can access the internet, flat-panel computer monitors and computers peripherals such as printers, copiers, faxes and scanners".

The Commission fought back, blocking the establishment of a dispute resolution panel while claiming that the increasingly converged nature of technology meant the tariffed goods had a larger range of functions than the product types covered by the original ITA.

On Monday, the Commission proposed to the WTO a revision and expansion of the ITA, which the Commission claims would see the terms of the agreement become less product-specific and more in tune with current technological trends.

"The ITA remains a milestone duty-free agreement," said EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. "But it risks being left behind after 12 years of technological development. We need an ITA for the 21st century that will continue to benefit our consumers and businesses."

In a statement, the Commission said it was "seeking a prompt launch and conclusion of negotiations to update the ITA within a matter of months, not years".

The Commission told the WTO it wanted to see a full review of the products covered in the ITA, the inclusion of major producers of IT products that are "still outside the ITA", and the establishment of "effective mechanisms to keep the agreement up to date and to ensure that in future it takes into account technological development and convergence".

The WTO had not, at the time of writing, responded to the Commission's proposals.