US takes on EU over tech tariffs

The United States has today launched a new trade row with the European Union by complaining to the World Trade Organisation over the EU's import tariffs on computer screens and other technology products.

Technology heavyweights such as Hewlett Packard have long accused the EU of violating the spirit and the letter of the WTO's 1997 Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which axed tariffs on a range of high-tech goods to boost trade.

"The EU should be working with the United States to promote new technologies, not finding protectionist gimmicks to apply new duties to these products," said trade representative Susan Schwab.

"Therefore, we urge the EU to eliminate permanently the new duties and to cease manipulating tariffs to discourage technological innovation," she said in a statement.

Global exports of products concerned are estimated to be worth more than $70 billion (35 billion), Schwab's office said.

The European Commission said it "strongly rejected" the arguments of the United States and accused Washington of refusing to heed its calls for negotiated changes in the products covered by the ITA deal.

"The ITA has a review clause which can be invoked by members at any time. The EU has said it is willing to negotiate with all other ITA members. The US is not willing to do this. Why not?" the Commission said in a statement.

As products such as television set-top boxes, large monitors and multifunction printers have evolved, EU customs officials have decided they are no longer covered by the pact and hit them with tariffs of up to 14 per cent.

Most of the products at issue in the case are manufactured in countries such as China and Malaysia but are based on US design and engineering and sold under US brand names.


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