Electronics Trade Show Opens with Rallying Cry for Free Trade

Allowing talented immigrants to come work for U.S. technology firms is vital to keeping the industry vibrant and innovative says industry group.

The world's largest consumer electronics trade show opened Jan. 7 with a rallying cry for the U.S. to shun protectionism and throw its borders open wide to trade and immigration. Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) chief executive Gary Shapiro said fear of terrorism and concerns about losing jobs or business to overseas competitors have created an ominous political climate. "Never before have I been as concerned that some in our country may hurt our leadership in the digital revolution," Shapiro told a packed ballroom as he kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "Storm clouds are gathering. We hear thunderous voices in the media, Congress and even the presidency to build a wall around our nation -- trade barriers which if followed will lead to disaster."

Shapiro joined the heads of the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America in asking Congress to back free trade agreements and the president's authority to negotiate such pacts. "Those that fear free trade don't understand the facts," Shapiro said. "Technology is a shining star of the economy. High tech is America's largest export sector."

The CEA predicts that consumer electronics sales will top $170 billion this year, up from $161 billion in 2007.

Allowing talented immigrants to come work for U.S. technology firms is vital to keeping the industry vibrant and innovative, Shapiro said. "When did we stop welcoming the best and brightest to this country?" he said. "We are fighting for our future here. It is not just about free trade, technology and the freedom to innovate, it is our soul. A great nation does not erect walls, it engages the world."

Congress should immediately endorse pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, according to Shapiro.

Shapiro's rallying cry came as more than 2,700 electronics, Internet and software companies from around the world began showing off their latest innovations in the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event offers a vault of high-tech marvels from the latest in flat-panel television sets and mobile telephones to computer-controlled homes and cars. Consumer electronics trends, opportunities and creations will be highlighted at the show and scrutinized in more than a score of "TechZones," and industry experts will discuss hot topics in conference sessions continuing until the show ends January 10.

In a keynote address on Jan. 6, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates heralded the onset of a new "digital decade" as even greater technology changes build on the success of personal computers and the Internet.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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