Trillion dollar IT trade deal on a knife-edge at WTO

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Trillion dollar IT trade deal on a knife-edge at WTO

'Success or failure' to be announced this week.

A trillion dollar deal at the World Trade Organisation to reduce tariffs in the information technology sector will stand or fall in the next 24 hours, according to trade diplomats.

Countries representing 97 percent of global IT commerce are trying to agree on expanding the WTO's Information Technology Agreement, which would be the first global pact on tariff cuts for over a decade.

The accord would reduce tariffs on such products as medical equipment, GPS devices, video games consoles and next-generation semiconductors, cutting more than 200 tariff lines to zero.

"We have in front of us the most far reaching market access package made in the WTO since 1996, worth more than 1 trillion (A$1.5 trillion) of world trade," European Union Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, chair of the talks, said yesterday.

"However, while the finalisation of the negotiations appears certainly within reach, there is still some distance, small compared with the long way we have already gone, which needs to be bridged," he told envoys in the WTO's General Council.

Some delegations needed to consult their ministries, but the deal needed to be done on Friday or not at all, Pangratis said.

"Later it will not be easier, rather the contrary. Now is the moment."

Countries negotiating the package have set themselves a goal of reaching an accord by a meeting of the WTO's General Council this week. Although the deadline is an artificial one, the vast majority of states are happy with the deal on the table, and further delay raises the risk that it might unravel.

The talks got a boost last month after a US-Chinese compromise removed a long-standing block to progress -- a Chinese demand for a large number of exemptions.

But diplomatic sources said Taiwan and South Korea were not happy with the dilution of the deal and were holding out for more concessions from China, which is both a leading manufacturer and a huge potential market for IT products.

US Ambassador Michael Punke told delegates that "success or failure" would be announced within the next couple of days.

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