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China stalls WTO trade talks on tariff-free IT goods

Beijing wants nearly half of items on list removed

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Chinese negotiators have come in for heavy criticism after global trade talks aimed at removing tariffs on a range of technology products broke down because Beijing wanted to exempt nearly half of them from the discussion.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Information Technology Agreement (ITA) was originally signed in 1996 but negotiators met in Geneva this week to hammer out an expansion of the pact in order to make a whole new range of items duty-free.

However, China wanted to exempt a whopping 106 out of the total 260 products to be discussed despite standing to gain much from the ITA’s ambitious aims, which it estimated could see a removal of tariffs on at least $800bn in ICT trade and expand global GDP by $190bn.

John Neuffer, SVP for global policy at technology trade body the IT Industry Council, argued in a strongly-worded blog post that “China showed up to the talks two days late and far more than a dollar short”.

“No country at the negotiating table should be able to have its cake and eat it too. China is the world's largest exporter of IT products and will benefit enormously from this tariff elimination initiative,” he added.

“And it should not be allowed to continue to keep a wide swath of tariffs in place that make it difficult for innovative, affordable tech products from the United States and around the world to enter the Chinese market.”

Neuffer explained that negotiators from the People’s Republic wanted to remove products including next-gen multi-component semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment, medical devices and even products – such as monitors and printers – already covered by the ITA.

Beijing’s intransigence has only caused a suspension of talks, and with other nations agreeing to reduce their sensitivities lists the prospect of reaching agreement in negotiations before the end of the year is still possible, he claimed.

“We are hopeful that the many voices – including developing country voices – emanating from Geneva this week urging China to get serious with this negotiation and develop a reasonable sensitivities list will be heard in Beijing,” he added.

Given the current US-China stand-off over state-sponsored hacking and the Middle Kingdom's continued belligerence in anti-dumping talks with the EU, however, a face-losing return to the ITA table may be some time coming. ®

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