WTO Info Tech Agreement Symposium: Is Expansion To Digital Trade In The Cards?29/06/2017 by Elise De Geyter for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Organization Agreement this week, several speakers and delegates called for a further expansion of the landmark deal, possibly in ways that include digital trade and better incorporate developing countries. Many information and communication technology (ICT) products are not part of the list of products under the ITA, speakers said, and negotiations about an expansion of the list of products may take a long time. A symposium was organised at the WTO on 27-28 June to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a tariff-cutting agreement. Zsofia Tvarusko, of Hungary, chairperson of the ITA Committee, said that the takeaways of the symposium will stimulate the further work of the ITA Committee.The objective of the symposium was to give an overview of the trade liberalization under the ITA and the evolution over the past 20 years of global trade in information and ICT products, according to the WTO.A new WTO publication, 20 Years of the Information Technology Agreement. Boosting trade, innovation and digital connectivity, was launched during the symposium.Information Technology Agreement The ITA was “the first tariff-cutting deal of the WTO,” WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo said in opening remarks.The ITA was concluded in December 1996 at the Ministerial Conference in Singapore. An expansion of the ITA to a new generation of ICT products was concluded in December 2015 at the Nairobi Ministerial Conference. Trade in the new list of products accounts for “around 1.3 trillion dollars a year,” Azevêdo said.Tvarusko told the symposium the ITA is a “unique instrument within the WTO.” The success of the ITA has led to the expansion of the ITA and the “success of the expansion has been recognised,” she said. The ITA has not only contributed to the ICT sectors of the different countries, but also to the countries’ greater economic development, according to Tvarusko.The Future of the ITAThe second day of the symposium focused on the existing and future challenges for the ITA and the ICT sector.It is a difficult time for people who support open trade, Carlos Halasz, customs compliance officer at Hewlett-Packard, told the event, adding that he is convinced that “open trade makes the world a better place.”Pascal Dorel, senior manager for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia (the EMEAR region) for global customs and trade at Cisco, said that the ITA is a good framework which needs to be revised “much more frequently.” The ITA is not “a one-size-fits-all solution” and another approach should be able to be considered, he added.Ganesh Kumar Bangah, deputy chairman of the National ICT Association of Malaysia (PIKOM), said that many products are not part of the ITA product list and that “it is time to act now.” He raised the question of whether the ITA is still relevant or whether it is time to move toward a digital trade area that would also cover non-tariff barriers and standards.Mario Palacios, global director of export and import policy at Intel, said that the new wave of computing will introduce new kinds of devices and technologies, such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.According to Marc Vancoppenolle, global head of government relations at Nokia, appropriate local regulation is needed in order to avoid unintended non-tariff barriers to trade. He added that “time is of the essence.”The delegate of Côte d’Ivoire underlined that it is important to review the ITA and include new elements such as non-tariff barriers and aspects related to services.The delegate of China, meanwhile, suggested not to rush towards a new round of negotiations. The implementation of the expansion of the ITA, as concluded at the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, needs to be finished before other negotiations can start, the Chinese delegate said.Yoichi Otabe, special advisor of trade policy and international cooperation board of the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA), suggested letting the new negotiations start during the implementation process of the expansion of the ITA.Hendrik Abma, director general of the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA), said “a forward-looking view is needed” and that there are “good reasons” to already start with negotiations of a new expansion of the ITA.The delegate of Zimbabwe raised the question of whether there would be any harm in changing the name of the ITA into “digital trade agreement.” Abma predicted that the negotiations will become really difficult if additional elements are put forward. He suggested to stick to precise topics during the negotiations where consensus can possibly be reached.Special attention should be given to non-tariff barriers, Tvarusko said, but added that there are other barriers to digital trade that need to be tackled too. She underlined that the WTO is an organisation driven by member states and that calls need to be made by member states.Developing Country ConcernsOtabe said there is “some merit for technology” not only for the benefit of big enterprises but for “mankind as a whole.”The delegate of Swaziland said that the concerns of the developing countries related to information technology have not been fully addressed. He told the symposium that it is “an open secret” that developed countries will benefit more than developing countries from the liberalisation in terms of data flow.The delegate of Senegal raised concerns that data optimisation may allow companies to provide services in developing countries such as Senegal without the need to actually be present at the place. This may lead to a loss of local jobs, the delegate said.The delegate of Togo underlined that the digital divide also applies to access to hardware equipment. The cost of hardware is “prohibitive” for the population in Togo, he said.Elise De Geyter is an intern at Intellectual Property Watch and a candidate for the LLM Intellectual Property and Technology Law at the National University of Singapore (class 2017). 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