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WTO slashes tariffs on IT goods but implementation held up

Delegates arrives for a special meeting of the General Council Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation at the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva November 27, 2014.

Reuters/Denis Balibouse/Files

GENEVA The World Trade Organization finalised a list of 201 information technology products to be freed from import tariffs in a $1.3 trillion deal on Friday, but said it was still short of the critical mass of countries needed to put it into force.

The first global tariff-cutting deal in 18 years will mean consumers should pay less for products such as computers, touch-screen devices, games consoles and hi-fi systems, while companies will see cuts in the cost of machine tools and components, giving a boost to economies globally.

“Today’s agreement is a landmark,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in a statement, adding that the value of trade involved was worth 7 percent of the global total, more than world trade in cars.

The product list includes new-generation semi-conductors, GPS navigation systems, medical products which include magnetic resonance imaging machines, printed circuits and satellites, the WTO said.

Once in force, the agreement will update the WTO’s 18-year-old Information Technology Agreement and add the 201 products to the list of goods covered by zero-tariff and duty-free trade.

Removing tariffs on trade worth $1.3 trillion is expected to give a $190 billion boost to the world economy.

However, five of the 54 WTO members that negotiated the deal – Taiwan, Turkey, Thailand, Colombia and Mauritius – failed to sign up, leaving the deal short of a quorum, measured as 90 percent of world trade in those products, needed to bring it into force for all 161 WTO members.

“The majority have already confirmed their participation. We expect those participants who didn’t, that they will soon,” Azevedo told reporters. “And others who haven’t even participated before have expressed their interest in joining.”

The five who had not yet signed up had different reasons for doing so, such as needing more time to consult with their ministries or because key officials were travelling, he said.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Punke said he was confident that those who had not signed up would join soon.

“This was the best possible outcome,” he said.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said more than $100 billion of U.S. exports alone would be covered by the updated agreement and industry estimates showed the removal of tariffs could support up to 60,000 additional jobs. 

“ITA’s expansion is great news for the American workers and businesses that design, manufacture and export state-of-the-art technology and information products, ranging from MRI machines to semiconductors to video game consoles,” he said in a statement.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said: “This deal will cut costs for consumers and business – in particular for smaller firms, which have been hit especially hard by excessive tariffs in the past.”

Technology manufacturers such as General Electric Co, Intel Corporation, Texas Instruments Inc, Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co are among companies expected to benefit from the deal.

Intel welcomed the range of products covered.

“That definitely impacts Intel and that’s important, but also as important are the other technologies that it covers that were not even dreamt of when the original ITA was negotiated,” said Intel communications director Lisa Malloy.

(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes in Washington and Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore; Editing by Alison Williams)

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