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Making Progress on the ITA Expansion Talks

Dateline Geneva:  We have just concluded a very productive set of meetings with roughly 20 WTO delegations here this week to press for expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA).  Our U.S. industry group, comprised of seven business associations and a number representatives from tech companies, delivered two key messages.

First, we stated unequivocally that these talks need to be completed -- hopefully by the end of the summer.  We underscored that, with the impressive momentum building since negotiations began last spring, we should not miss this opportunity to get a big win for trade and the global economy in 2013.  And the WTO would benefit greatly, as well, to demonstrate its leadership in opening markets to new products.   

Second, we stressed that the final outcome needs to be robust and commercially meaningful.  That means strengthening and enhancing the agreement with additional tech products.  The ITA went into force in 1997.  In the ensuing 16 years, innovations have led to amazing advancements in consumer products.  But the ITA has remained static.  Flat panel televisions, Bluetooth devices, GPS systems, smart meters, and game consoles are just a few of the products being considered for inclusion in the agreement.  That’s why expansion is so important.  We need a commercially significant outcome as there is no assurance our next opportunity to strengthen this important agreement will come anytime soon.

There are three significant trade initiatives in play in Geneva right now:  1) negotiations to forge an international services agreement; 2) a trade facilitation agreement as part of the Doha Round; and, 3) ITA expansion.  Judging from the progress we saw in our talks this week, ITA expansion distinguishes itself as being in a great position for getting wrapped up this year.

More generally, we are pleased to see the muscle memory for closing strong trade deals seems to be returning to the negotiators here in Geneva.  This is a refreshing and welcome development for a town that has had a long dry spell when it comes to concluding impactful, market-opening trade deals.

The next major inflection point for this initiative will be Friday’s ITA Committee meeting here in Geneva, the first such meeting this year.  Then there is the APEC trade ministers’ meeting in Surabaya, Indonesia, on April 20-21.  APEC played a critical role in birthing the ITA in the mid-1990s and we have high hopes that the organization will play a similarly important role in graduating the ITA to the next big level with an unambiguous call from the APEC economies to get an ambitious negotiation wrapped up in 2013.  The next round of ITA talks in Geneva is to be held during the week of April 29.

ITA expansion is an important cornerstone for the shared, overarching objective of fueling the digital economy, which presents the most exciting growth opportunities.  When access to affordable, innovative tech hardware is limited, prospects for the digital economy are diminished.  That means fewer new businesses and fewer new jobs.  This exercise to expand the ITA is an attempt to future-proof it and ensure that the digital economy flourishes.

Finally, there has been some unconfirmed chatter that Russia is moving to take its final steps to join the ITA.  That would be great news.  Russia is expected to weigh in at the ITA Committee meeting on Friday.  Stay tuned.

Public Policy Tags: Trade & Market Access
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