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China softens duty-free stance to revive global IT trade talks

Deal aims to cut tariffs on $800bn of worldwide ICT trade

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Global trade talks aimed at removing tariffs on a swathe of technology products are set to restart within weeks after China finally agreed to reverse a hardline decision which threatened to derail the ambitious plans.

The World Trade Organisation talks aim to update the 1996 Information Technology Agreement (ITA) by adding an extra 260 products to a duty-free list.

According to some estimates, this could see the removal of tariffs on at least $800bn in ICT trade and expand global GDP by $190bn.

Chinese negotiators came in for some harsh criticism back in July when they demanded that 106 of the 260 items be exempted from the discussions. Some argued at the time that the Middle Kingdom was trying to have its cake and eat it, as it would benefit enormously from the elimination of tariffs.

However, in a series of meetings in Bali last week, China took a more conciliatory tone, indicating that it was prepared to shorten the list of products it wants excluded, according to the FT.

As a result, talks could apparently begin in earnest before the month is out with a finalised deal potentially in the offing by December.

In another sign China is ready to take a more active role in global technology trade talks, it has also formally applied to join discussions on the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA).

This separate standalone agreement between the EU and over 20 WTO members, which is set to take longer to thrash out than the ITA, will aim to ease cross-border trade in areas such as ICT, e-commerce and government procurement, according to the European Commission.

However, despite current participants representing over two-thirds of the annual worldwide trade in services, global manufacturing giant India has so far refused to co-operate. ®

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