After months of delays, eighty countries negotiating over the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) reached a breakthrough on Saturday (18 July) at a meeting brokered by the World Trade Organization.
The WTO has set a deadline of Friday (24 July), by noon CET for the countries involved in talks to sign off on the deal, which would get rid of trade tariffs for around 200 technology products. Those include GPS devices, medical equipment, and semiconductors, which are used in a number of devices, totalling an estimated $1 trillion annually in trade deals.
WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo said on Saturday, “The trade covered in this agreement is comparable to annual global trade in iron, steel, textiles and clothing combined.”
Negotiators involved in the agreement, including the European Union, met last week to try to strike a deal. The ITA was first signed off in 1996. Once the new additions to the deal are agreed on, they could go into effect by next summer.
Talks were held up in recent months by disagreements over a few types of products. China and South Korea stalled agreement, as both tried to protect their LCD screen and lithium battery markets, a major area for South Korean tech giant Samsung. China and the EU also disagreed over analogue radios. Previously, China had asked to have to have a long list of products excluded from the deal.
“Now that the key problems have been addressed, we are confident the new ITA will be agreed this time,” said John Higgins, director general of tech trade association DigitalEurope.
“All parties in the talks are to be congratulated. They have paved the way for a deal that will have a major boost to the global trade in tech products, many of which didn’t exist when the first ITA was signed.”
DigitalEurope spokesman Paul Meller said Europe’s telecoms and phone manufacturing and GPS industries would stand to benefit most from the agreement.
The European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA) supports the ITA but did not respond to a request for comment. The US-based Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) called the deal “a hard-fought win for the semiconductor industry and the tech sector in general.” The semiconductor industry is dominated by several American companies, including Intel.