ITA Talks Rolling Forward

John Neuffer photo

Dateline Geneva:  It is somehow fitting that as the 83rd Geneva Motor Show wraps up here today, an event that celebrates the latest and greatest in innovations in automobile form and technology, trade negotiators from around the world are descending on this town for yet another round of talks to expand the WTO's Information Technology Agreement (ITA).  

Since last May, ITA members have been gathering in Geneva on nearly a monthly basis to advance an ambitious initiative to do what has not been done since the ITA was put into force 16 years ago -- update the trade pact by adding a whole new range of tech products to it.  Flat panel display televisions, GPS systems, game consoles, and next generation semi-conductor chips are among the innovative products on the table. If these and other products are successfully included in the agreement, the resulting tariff elimination will spur economic growth, innovation, and jobs.  For the United States alone, it's estimated that ITA expansion would create 60,000 new American jobs.  For the world, it should add $190 billion to global GDP annually.

WTO signITI is joined in Geneva by the Consumer Electronic Association (CEA), the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Semiconductor Equipment & Material International (SEMI), the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), and the Telecommunications Industry Associations (TIA), along with a number of representatives from U.S. industry.  Also here this week will be representatives from business associations in Japan and Chinese Taipei.

Our aim will be to meet ITA negotiators on the margins of informal and formal talks set to take place throughout this week.  We have two key messages on our minds.  First, we want to impress upon the negotiators that these talks need to get done this year -- hopefully by the end of the summer.  With impressive momentum building since negotiations began last May, we should not miss this opportunity to get a big win for trade on the scoreboard in 2013.

Second, we will be keeping the negotiators focused on the reality it has taken 16 years to get people to the table to seriously look at expanding the ITA -- a remarkable and somewhat embarrassing fact, given the astounding leaps in tech-product innovation since the mid-1990s.  Because we may not get another bite at this apple for a good long time, we need to ensure the final outcome is significant and commercially meaningful.  That means strengthening and enhancing the agreement with lots of additional tech products.

It's good to be back in Geneva for these talks, though we must confess we did manage get out to the auto show on Sunday to drink up the last hours of the dazzling innovations on display in the auto sector.  We'll provide an update on the ITA talks later in the week.

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