ITA Expansion Talks Extended as China Dithers

John Neuffer photo

Dateline GENEVA:  At an ambassadors’ meeting this afternoon here in Geneva, negotiations to expand product coverage of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) were extended an additional two days until close of business on Friday.  The reason for the extension is China, which has refused to seriously engage in the multilateral negotiations while virtually everyone else at the table has bent over backwards with the myriad constructive compromises necessary to achieve a commercially significant outcome this week.

China’s recalcitrant behavior continued after the ambassadors’ meeting when its negotiating team was a no-show at the scheduled technical working group meeting convened to continue to hammer out which tariff lines will survive.  Indeed, China’s behavior over the past 10 days has entered the realm of the surreal.  We now have Team China talking about the negotiations in terms of “watermelons” and “sesame seeds.”  Attempting to turn reality on its head, China is trying to claim its meager offer is a watermelon and the significant list of tech products it wants wiped from the table is a sesame seed.  That hard-to-swallow claim was not well received at today’s ambassadors’ meeting and was directly challenged as being far from the mark. 

The good news is that virtually all the brush has been cleared for getting a strong deal this week.  Country after country has made helpful concessions intended to close this thing out.  True, Turkey and a couple smaller players have sensitivities lists that still need work.  But everyone else is nearly good to go, except China.

Since negotiators arrived in Geneva last week, events have transpired that conjure Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, where the chief characters wait in vain for Godot to appear on stage.  He never does.  Well, the Chinese are sort of here, but they might as well be ghosts.  Let’s hope this drama does not have the same denouement as the famous English play.  It would be a huge lost opportunity for jobs, global growth, and innovation.

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