WASHINGTON-Trade ministers in Singapore reached agreement late last week to phase out tariffs on telecommunications and information technology products by 2000, a major victory for the United States that could boost chances for a global free-trade accord on telecommunications services early next year.
Success in winning approval for the Information Technology Agreement, which goes into effect July 1, appeared to have helped acting U.S. trade representative Charlene Barshefsky secure a permanent appointment by President Clinton. However, Barshefsky is handicapped because of past lobbying for Canadian timber interests, which under a new law disqualifies her for the job.
The accord had barely enough support, with differences arising regarding timetables for developed and developing countries to end tariffs and the category of products covered. Industrialized countries with high-tech expertise, like the United States and those in the European Union, are expected to benefit most from zero tariffs on telecom goods.
The ITA was endorsed by 28 countries, representing 85 percent of the trillion dollar global equipment market. But for the agreement to take effect, it must have the consent of those nations comprising 90 percent of global information technology trade.
USTR said Malaysia, the Philippines and four other countries-representing another 6 percent of the market-have committed to signing onto the deal.