More than 80 industry groups from around the world have called on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers gathering in China this weekend to help restart stalled talks on expanding tariff cuts on information and communications technology products.
China, which is hosting key Apec meetings, seminars and workshops this year, will be presiding over the two-day meeting of ministers responsible for trade, starting on Saturday in Qingdao, Shandong province.
In a joint statement released on Tuesday in the United States, the industry associations urged the trade ministers "to take active steps to restart the tariff-elimination negotiations" for an expanded Information Technology Agreement.
Specifically, the groups called on the "Apec economies participating in the negotiations to exercise strong leadership, embrace the long-term benefits of ITA expansion, and limit product sensitivities so an ambitious outcome can be achieved as soon as possible".
They pointed out that Apec "has deep ties with ITA. The Apec ministers meeting in Singapore in 1995 played a critical role in helping to launch the ITA".
The groups included the American Chamber of Commerce, the Consumer Electronics Association, DigitalEurope, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association, the Taipei Computer Association and the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation.
Broadening the scope of the ITA, a global pact set up under the World Trade Organisation, is forecast to increase global trade in information and communications technology products to more than US$5 trillion this year from US$1.2 trillion when the deal took effect in 1996, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a US-based think tank, said.
The trade groups said the expanded ITA "would do even more to help drive innovation, accelerate productivity, create jobs, lower consumer prices and bridge communities across the globe in ways unimagined 18 years ago, when the agreement was established".
Negotiations to expand the scope of the ITA were suspended on November 21 last year after China, the world's biggest exporter and importer of high- technology goods, declined to pare down the list of products - called "sensitivities" - it wanted excluded from an expanded deal.
Last year's talks tabled about 250 products in addition to the 190 duty-free items originally covered by the ITA. China offered a deal-breaking "sensitivities" list of about 140 products, of which 57 items were for exclusion and the rest for longer tariff phase-out periods.
"The Chinese have had six months to reflect on how ITA expansion would be good for China in terms of growth and innovation," John Neuffer, the senior vice-president for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, a US-based advocacy group, told the South China Morning Postyesterday.
"[China] has an excellent opportunity to help deliver a key Apec deliverable by showing greater ambition on ITA expansion and playing a constructive role in driving the negotiations to a conclusion."
In a statement released in October, Apec economic leaders supported an ITA expansion that was "commercially significant, credible, pragmatic, balanced and reflective of the dynamic technological developments in the information tech- nology sector over the last 16 years".
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has estimated that increased global demand for information and communications technology products induced by wider ITA tariff cuts would boost China's exports of these goods by US$12 billion annually.
Formal ITA negotiations are held at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. There are 79 ITA signatories, accounting for about 97 per cent of global trade in information and communications technology products.