U.S., China reach deal to expand free trade in tech products

US President Barack Obama is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping as he arrives for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting at Yanqi Lake, north of Beijing on November 11, 2014. Top leaders and ministers of the 21-member APEC grouping are meeting in Beijing from November 7 to 11. AFP PHOTO/Greg BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
GREG BAKER/AFP--Getty Images

It’s time to look forward to cheaper video game consoles, GPS devices, wireless headsets and a whole load of other high-tech goods–although not in time for this holiday season.

The U.S. and China reached a landmark agreement early Tuesday on cutting tariffs for a whole range of high-tech goods, paving the way for the first global agreement on free trade in information technology in nearly 20 years.

The deal, which has been years in the making, is a welcome piece of positive news in an economic relationship between the two countries that has run into trouble of late against a background of increased , with China aggressively pursuing some leading U.S. companies for alleged antitrust violations.

“This is encouraging news for the U.S.-China relationship,” Reuters quoted USTR Michael Froman as saying on the sidelines of meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing.

“It shows how the U.S. and China work together to both advance our bilateral economic agenda but also to support the multilateral trading system.”

For China, which is by far the world’s biggest exporter of such equipment, the agreement is a welcome boost to an economy that has lost momentum this year, and fits with a government strategy of trying to move the country’s economy up the value chain, rather than having it stay the low-cost workhouse of the world.

The deal was announced by President Barack Obama after bilateral talks with China on the sidelines of the APEC summit. Froman’s office said in a statement it would “allow substantial expansion of ‘Made in America’… exports to growing markets without the imposition of burdensome tariffs, and support tens of thousands of well-paying U.S. manufacturing and technology jobs.”

The deal covers more than 250 types of product not included in the original 1996 Information Technology Agreement. As a result of bringing these products under the ITA, tariffs on most of them will either be cut entirely or substantially reduced.

The agreement paves the way for a global deal to be agreed at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, possibly by the end of the year. However, the last word still has to be spoken, as other countries such as Japan and South Korea will likely have issues of their own that need to be addressed.

The ITA covers some $4 trillion a year in global trade, but the list of products covered by it hasn’t been expanded since 1996.


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