Breakthrough on tech tariff-cuts could unlock $1 trillion in world trade; final deal set for Nairobi December meet

Tariffs on semiconductors, MRI machines, GPS devices, printer ink cartridges, video game consoles and others would be cut to zero.

TRADE negotiators tentatively agreed on Saturday to eliminate tariffs on an array of technology products valued at $1 trillion worth of global commerce.

The breakthrough toward the World Trade Organisation’s Information Technology Agreement took place at an ambassadors’ meeting at the European Union embassy in Geneva.

“Very optimistic that we’ll have a final successful deal by the end of next week,” Roberto Azevedo, director-general of the WTO, said on Twitter. “We have the basis for an agreement.”

In talks that started on July 14, members took on the question of various tariffs, notably on LCD screens, which were contested by Taiwan and China, and an EU request concerning car radios. South Korean negotiators withdrew their opposition to an extended agreement, and members agreed to consider a draft list of covered products.

Tariffs on semiconductors, magnetic resonance imaging machines, global positioning system devices, printer ink cartridges, video game consoles and other products would be cut to zero under the deal, according to the USTR office.

‘Final approval’

The expanded product list will now undergo consideration from trade ministers at their various capitals.

The product list could pave the way for a finalised deal that would contribute as much as $190 billion to the global gross domestic product (GDP) and support 60,000 U.S. jobs.

Technology manufacturers like Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., Sandisk Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc. stand to benefit from the elimination of tariffs on some 250 products.

The 80 WTO countries that participate in the ITA talks account for about 97% of global trade in IT products.

Staging schedules

The ITA requires participants to eliminate import tariffs on technology products on a most-favoured-nation basis, meaning that any duty-free terms are applied to all WTO members.

In September, ITA negotiators will start talks on schedules of concessions for tariff reductions, also known as staging. That allows countries to gradually phase in the tariff reductions for certain products deemed too sensitive for the ITA’s various signatories.

Negotiators will also hold technical negotiations with the goal of completing the agreement by the WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled for Dec. 15-18 in Nairobi, Kenya.

U.S. technology industry officials are hopeful the deal could enter into force as soon as July 2016.

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