Ag Proposal Could Benefit IT Trade Talks

The technology industry hopes a U.S. proposal to cut farm subsidies will
break a logjam bottlenecking overall World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, which include opening up the global IT marketplace.

With just two months left to conclude a WTO treaty that began with
negotiations in Doha, Qatar, four years ago, the issue of agricultural
subsidies and tariffs is threatening to collapse all other trade issues.

On Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman proposed in Zurich that the
United States is willing to cut farm subsidies by 60 percent if the European
Union and Japan also slash subsidies.

“Our ambitious initiative demonstrates a seriousness of purpose,” Portman
said Monday. “The United States is committed to breaking the deadlock in
multilateral talks on agriculture and unleashing the full potential of the
Doha round.”

Portman added, “Our time is short. I urge all of us to redouble our efforts
and maximize the nine weeks left before the WTO [meeting] in Hong Kong.”

Portman’s proposal drew praise from two high-tech industry trade
organizations in Washington.

“We applaud [Portman] for taking an important step to end the current
impasse over agriculture,” Harris Miller, president of the Information
Technology Association of America (ITAA), said in a statement. “This
important action moves us towards WTO agreements that advance the global
marketplace for IT products and services.”

Rhett Dawson, president of the Information Technology Industry Council
(ITI), also praised Portman’s efforts.

“The deadlock over agriculture has impeded efforts to keep the negotiating
process moving forward in other critical areas,” he said in a separate
statement. “[The] agriculture proposal creates renewed hope for early and
meaningful progress in the Doha round.”

Both the ITAA and the ITI want to push the Doha round negotiations to
eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers on electronics. According to
Dawson, technology convergence is blurring the original trade lines between
personal and professional use of information technology.

As examples, he cited all-in-one machines that print, copy and fax, along
with LCD screens used in television sets.

“The U.S. has stepped up to the plate [to break the agricultural deadlock];
now it’s up to our trading partners to seize the opportunity,” Dawson said.
“There is little time to spare and much at stake. A quick and serious
response from our trading partners means we can move forward and address
barriers in other sectors, such as electronics.”

Dawson also noted that there has been an increase in non-tariff trade
barriers to IT products, such as technical regulations and procedures.

According to an ITI statement, “As a result, market access for IT products
around the globe is being hindered by outdated rules that haven’t kept pace
with technology innovation.”

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