One of the initiatives that fell victim to the failure of the Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) conference was a U.S. proposal to extend a ban on Internet duties, a European Union official said Saturday.
The ministerial conference broke up late Friday with no agreement to launch a new round of trade liberalization talks and no accord on extending a temporary ban on customs duties on goods and services transmitted electronically such as software, digital books and music.
"Nothing is agreed on that," European Trade Commissioner
Pascal Lamy told a news conference.
"It's probably up to normal WTO procedures to roll over the
duty-free on e-commerce ... then it wouldn't be a problem and
maybe we could take this issue rapidly in itself. But it was not
agreed here and it will have to be agreed elsewhere," Lamy
WTO members agreed at a May 1998 meeting in Geneva to a
temporary ban on customs duties on goods and services transmitted
electronically. The United States pressed for agreement in
Seattle to make the moratorium permanent or at least extend it.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley said earlier this
week he was "very optimistic" trade ministers in Seattle would
agree to extend the ban on Internet duties for 18 to 24 months.
Ban to stay in place
When the Seattle conference ended, trade officials held out
hope it could reconvene at a future date after consultations to
try to move the trade negotiations forward.
Despite the failure to extend the moratorium, U.S. trade
officials said the ban would remain in place until the WTO
Another initiative whose future was in doubt was an
initiative for wealthy countries to grant duty-free access to
their markets for almost all products from the world's poorest
The EU launched the initiative in the months running up to
the Seattle conference to try to show it was meeting the concerns
of developing countries which are lukewarm to the launch of a new
The EU hoped that the United States, Japan, and Canada would
also line up behind the proposal.
Lamy said the EU had succeeded in getting Japan to back the
proposal, but not the United States or Canada. EU officials said
the United States still had problems with aspects of the
"As far as the EU is concerned, this is already in place for
us," Lamy said, of the least developed country initiative.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said the U.S.
administration had had a series of discussions with the EU, Japan
and Canada on the least developed country initiative.
"I can't tell you when those discussions will conclude
except that they are moving along, I think at a very good pace,"
she told a news conference.