Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov16/08)
7 November 2016
Third World Network
US, allies try another NAMA pluri, cloaked as ICT-NTBs
Published in SUNS #8347 dated 3 November 2016
Geneva, 2 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Major developed and some developing
countries on Tuesday (1 November) have signalled their intention to
pursue yet another plurilateral initiative at the World Trade Organization
ostensibly for removing/reducing non-tariff barriers (NTBs) in global
trade in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products,
trade negotiators told the SUNS.
Instead of addressing the NTBs in the Doha work program on non-agricultural
market access (NAMA), major industrialized and some developing countries
- Switzerland, the European Union, Japan, Hong Kong-China, the United
States, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and China among others -
indicated their intention to fork out an agreement for tackling NTBs
in the ICT sector at the WTO's eleventh ministerial conference next
year in Buenos Aires.
At a meeting of the Committee on the Information Technology Agreement
on 1 November, India and Egypt severely questioned the move to pursue
a sectoral approach for tackling NTBs outside the NAMA negotiations.
The two developing countries said they will not accept such an approach
which further undermines the NAMA negotiations as set out in the Doha
work program, according to negotiators who took part in the meeting.
The former chair of the Doha NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Remigi
Winzap of Switzerland, in his last report delivered on 11 April, had
said unambiguously that "many Members also flagged an interest
Ambassador Winzap had said "some members would see merit in continuing
discussions on NTB proposals on which most work has been done in the
past (e. g. Horizontal Mechanism, Transparency, Textile labelling)"
while some others "see potential in new areas (e. g. on foodstuff)."
"I also heard that if a sectoral approach were to be pursued
for NAMA tariff reductions, one could also seek to address the NTB
part of such sector," the former chair said, giving an indication
that a sectoral approach to NTBs is being considered by some members.
"I further heard that work on NTBs undertaken in some RTA [TPP
- Trans-Pacific Partnership] negotiations, such as on regulatory coherence
could be looked into and might inspire discussions in the WTO, either
in the NAMA negotiating group or in the Committee on Market Access."
Nevertheless, despite opposition of key developing countries, the
trade majors at the WTO seem hell-bent on transforming the member-driven
and multilateral character of the WTO into addressing their specific
concerns in accordance with the interests of their powerful industrial
lobbies, said an African negotiator.
"Otherwise, how do we explain an unofficial document prepared
by the ICT lobbies of the US, the EU, and Japan was circulated at
the meeting to reinforce their specific demands on reducing/removing
NTBs," the negotiator maintained.
According to the two-page unofficial room document titled, "Furthering
Global Trade in ICT Products by Streamlining the Application of Technical
Rules", the sponsors (the US, the EU and Japan on behalf of their
ICT lobbies) proposed that "following the agreement for an expanded
Information and Technology Agreement (ITA), the ICT global industry
would like to suggest to start with the following areas within the
framework of the WTO-ITA Committee's Non-Tariff Measures Work Programme,
with the aim of removing or reducing these [technical] barriers to
"We encourage ITA Committee participants to achieve outcomes
in these areas for the next WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Argentina
at the end of 2017," the unofficial document demanded.
It identified three major areas such as "Alignment of Conformity
Assessment Procedures and Increased Transparency"; "Adoption
of e-labelling"; and, "Avoiding Forced Localization"
measures in which it mentioned the importance of crafting obligations
on forced localization measures as set out in "regional trade
agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)".
Under "Alignment of Conformity Assessment Procedures and Increased
Transparency," the document suggested that "there is a proliferation
of unique and unnecessarily burdensome regulatory obligations at the
national level in the areas of testing and certification requirements."
"Redundant testing and certification increase customer costs,
limit choice, and delay market entry in many cases by weeks or months,
which is especially significant for ICT, given the rapid development
and marketing/sales cycle of ICT products. WTO members should reduce
these NTBs in accordance with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers
to Trade (TBT Agreement)."
It maintained that "work in the WTO ITA Committee to highlight
these obstacles to trade with a view to their reduction could deliver
a tangible, positive result by MC11."
As a first step, the ITA Committee's "Guidelines for EMC/EMI
(Electromagnetic Compatibility/Electromagnetic Interference) Conformity
Assessment Procedures from 2005" can simplify and align rules
related to conformity assessment to enhance global trade in ICT products,
according to the document.
Further, as part of this effort, the sponsors said "we propose
that the ITA Committee send a survey to Members requesting specific
information about their technical and administrative requirements
for EMC/EMI, as well as other common regulated areas such as safety
and radio aspects (where relevant)."
"In addition to asking which specific standards and what corresponding
conformity assessments are required (e. g. in-country testing, third
party, or SDoC), the survey could address Members' approaches to the
adoption of global standards," according to the document.
On adoption of "e-labelling," the industry lobbies said
"E-labelling is the option for the manufacturer to display required
regulatory information and markings (e. g.: CE mark in Europe, FCC
in the US) via the product's integral screen or other electronic method
instead of physically affixing them on the product itself."
They claimed that E-labelling will bring "many benefits for market
surveillance, manufacturers and consumers alike, such as better access
to regulatory information, removal of design restrictions, better
traceability and a more environmental-friendly option."
At WTO level, according to the ICT lobbies, "we propose the negotiators
discuss the opportunity of adopting a global framework for e-labelling
for ICT products."
This framework would feature Members' adoption of the same legal requirements
(based on common guidelines and standards), to ensure that manufacturers
placing products on all markets can equally benefit from this option,
On the last issue of avoiding forced localization barriers, the global
ICT industry "would like to draw the Committee's attention to
forced localization measures impacting trade in ICT equipment and
highlight how these measures raise prices, distort supply and demand,
and increase costs for customers seeking to purchase ICT equipment,
"This work could include discussion of how Members' existing
obligations under the WTO Agreement address forced localization measures
and how regional trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership
also address these measures," it maintained.
In a nutshell, industry lobbies are able to reach a member-driven
and rules-based WTO directly and press for sectoral agreements regardless
of the opposition from members. The lobbies and their governments
seem determined to press ahead with plurilateral initiatives if developing
countries raise any opposition, the negotiator argued. +