The US has urged China to help revive talks to update the 1996 agreement governing the $2tn annual global trade in IT products amid warnings that a weekend meeting of Pacific Rim trade ministers risks ending in embarrassing acrimony.
The call by Washington in the lead-up to the meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministers in the Chinese city of Qingdao is part of the strategic manoeuvring between the US and China over what role Beijing ought to play in global trade negotiations.
The US, EU and others have framed the Information Technology Agreement negotiations as a test case for China as it seeks to join much larger US-led discussions to set new global rules for the $4.6tn annual trade in services.
The ITA discussions, which are taking place under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, are also being viewed as a test for the WTO as its members debate how to revive the stalled Doha round of negotiations. “If we can’t figure [the ITA] out then how can we figure out the bigger market access issues that are now again at the centre of the [WTO] agenda,” one Geneva-based trade official said.
Talks to update the ITA with 256 additional tariff-free product categories ranging from flat screen TVs to next-generation semiconductors broke down last November after China, which is now the world’s largest exporter of IT goods, sought to maintain its tariffs on more than 100 of those products.
Since then, people involved in the talks said, there had been little progress as some ministries in Beijing remained opposed to lowering tariff barriers and wanted to continue protecting local industries.
But the US is trying to use China’s leadership of this year’s Apec meetings as a way to put new pressure on Beijing to go back to the negotiating table and slash its list down to a more reasonable length.
Mike Froman, the US trade representative, said the ITA had begun life as an Apec initiative and remained high on the forum’s agenda. At their meeting in Bali last October, Apec leaders called for the “swift conclusion” of the ITA negotiations before a meeting of WTO trade ministers a few weeks later on the Indonesian island.
It was therefore natural for China as this year’s Apec host to help revive the talks, Mr Froman said.
“There is a real opportunity to make progress on [the] ITA, but at this point, it all turns on China,” Mr Froman said in an emailed statement. “As chair of Apec, China has a real opportunity to show leadership this week in pushing the ITA forward.”
A move by China on the ITA would send a positive signal over “its approach to international negotiations generally”, he added. It would also help build support in the US for bilateral investment negotiations with Beijing now getting under way.
One person familiar with Beijing’s negotiating position said China was opposed to an expansion of the list to include certain products, such as various types of medical equipment. The Ministry of Commerce did not reply to a request for comment.
Other Apec countries are also applying pressure on China. At a meeting of WTO ambassadors from Apec nations in Geneva last week, countries including Australia, Canada and Japan joined the US in pushing for the trade ministers to express “extreme disappointment” in their closing statement on Sunday if no progress is made on the ITA, according to people close to the negotiations. China is eager not to see that language included, they said.
The US call came as a coalition of IT industry groups from around the world urged the Apec trade ministers to focus on relaunching the ITA talks during their meeting in Qingdao.
John Neuffer, head of global policy for the Washington-based Information Technology Industry Council, said the ITA discussions had almost succeeded last year and only a final push was needed.
“In my view we are one week of talks in Geneva away from closing this thing out. But to get to that one week of talks we need China,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell)
美国、欧盟和其他方面将《信息技术产品协议》(Information Technology Agreement，简称ITA)谈判视作一块考验中国的试金石，因为中国正寻求加入美国主导的规模大得多的磋商，这项磋商的目的是为每年4.6万亿美元的服务贸易确定新的全球规则。
总部位于华盛顿的信息技术产业理事会(Information Technology Industry Council)的全球政策主管约翰?纽佛(John Neuffer)表示，ITA谈判去年功亏一篑，现在只需要一个最后冲刺。