WTO strikes deal to cut tariffs on 201 IT products

Landmark pact set to boost world economy by $261b; tariff reductions to start next year

GENEVA • Major exporters of information technology on Friday agreed to cut global tariffs on more than 200 products.

It is the first such deal struck by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in nearly two decades.

The pact, which came after three years of frequently stalled negotiations, covers products ranging from video games to touch screens and GPS navigation systems.

In all, the 201 products account for roughly US$1.3 trillion (S$1.8 trillion) or 7 per cent of annual global trade. Removing the tariffs is expected to give a US$190 billion boost to the world economy.

"Today's agreement is a landmark," WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said in a statement, describing the accord as "the first major tariff-cutting deal" at the organisation in 18 years.

European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom described the deal - which was initiated and brokered by the EU - as "a great deal for consumers, and for companies big and small".

While the full terms of the agreement will be released only this week, the WTO said the highlights include the removal of "the majority of tariffs" on a diverse range of products within three years.

The trade value of the IT products covered amounts to more than the "trade in automotive products, or trade in textiles, clothing, iron and steel combined", said Mr Azevedo.

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 per cent 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," Mr Azevedo told reporters.

The tariff reductions are set to start next year, but participating countries must submit a draft schedule spelling out their plans to meet the terms of the deal by the end of October.

The deal is an expansion of a pact, known as the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), reached in 1996 by 81 WTO members.

In 2012, member states resolved that the ITA needed to be revised because the world's most valuable IT products had been invented after 1996. But there were considerable hurdles to striking a broader agreement, notably differences between the United States and China.

The WTO said the deal finalised on Friday has provisions to expand the list of products covered, with changes possibly needed "to reflect future technological development".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'WTO strikes deal to cut tariffs on 201 IT products'. Print Edition | Subscribe