U.S. Pushes WTO For Panel On High-Tech Tariffs

    August 18, 2008

The United States has asked the World Trade Organization to create a panel to settle a dispute with the European Union over tariffs on high-tech items.

The request is an escalation in an increasingly bitter dispute over the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which abolished duties on a number of high-tech goods from July 1997 to encourage trade.

World Trade Organization

Starting in 2005, the European Union has reenacted tariffs on new versions of computer screens, multi-function printers and TV set-top boxes that access the Internet. The EU maintains they are now consumer products and not pure high-tech goods.

"We regret that formal consultations have not been successful in resolving our concerns over the duties that the EU is imposing on several high-tech products," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement.

"We believe that these duties are inconsistent with the EU’s commitments on these products, and that they discourage technological innovation in the IT sector," she said.

Japan and Taiwan joined the request for a panel in the dispute with the EU. The request will be reviewed by the WTO’s dispute settlement body on August 29. The EU will be able object but it cannot block a panel under WTO rules.

The U.S. estimates that worldwide exports of high-tech goods total more that $70 billion.  The U.S. said the EU was charging duties on products that did not exist at the time the ITA was created.

"In effect the EU is taxing innovation — a move that could impair continued technological development in the information technology industry and raise prices for millions of businesses and consumers," the U.S. said.