U.S. Files WTO Complaint Against EU over High-Tech Goods Tariffs

May 28, 2008
Complains about duties on flat-screen computer monitors and cable set-top boxes that should be duty-free

The World Trade Organization (WTO) said May 28 the U.S. had filed a complaint against the EU over tariffs levied on high-technology goods. The U.S. charged that Brussels was imposing duties on certain products such as flat-screen computer monitors and cable set-top boxes that should be duty-free under the WTO's Information Technology Agreement (ITA).

"The EU should be working with the U.S. to promote new technologies, not finding protectionist gimmicks to apply new duties to these products," said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. The complaint focuses on three specific products: cable or satellite set-top boxes with internet access, flat-panel computer monitors, and computer printers which can scan, fax and copy.

Global exports of these products were estimated at over $70 billion in 2007, the U.S. said.

Washington claims these products were included in the ITA agreement of 1996, which eliminated tariffs and import duties on a wide range of information technology products. However the EU said that the ITA does not apply when changes in technology mean a product now has multiple functions. For example, Brussels claims that the flat-panel monitors cited by the U.S. should properly be classified as video monitors because they can also be used with DVD players, and thus fall out of the scope of the ITA. Likewise, set-top boxes with internet access should be seen as video recorders because they can record live TV, while the U.S. has itself changed its mind over multi-functional digital copiers, the EU said.

"The only way to adapt the ITA to changed technologies is to renegotiate the product scope of the ITA with all its signatories," Brussels said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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