Sticking points remain in an attempt by WTO members to eliminate duties on billions of dollars of technology products, the head of the global body said on Monday.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said it was hard to tell whether talks could be wrapped up by the time of an Asia-Pacific trade ministers meeting in China in mid-May.
The US, China, the EU and nearly two dozen other countries are negotiating an expansion of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement, a 16-year-old pact that eliminated duties on a long list of technology products including personal computers, laptops and telephones.
Azevedo said he had spoken to major stakeholders, including China, and there was still a way to go.
“I think there is a positive attitude but ... like in every other negotiation, there are difficulties, and these difficulties are trying to be overcome as quickly as possible,” he told reporters during a visit to Washington.
The US and Europe have blamed China, the world’s biggest exporter of IT products, for derailing talks by asking for too many exemptions from the deal.
China has in turn said US demands far exceeded what was acceptable to Chinese companies.
Azevedo, who said he discussed progress on the agreement at a meeting on Monday with US Trade Representative Michael Froman, was cautious on signing up for the May deadline suggested by US businesses.
“It’s difficult to tell at this point in time how quickly and how far we can get from where we are … so it would not be wise for me to try to point to an arrival point,” he said at a US Chamber of Commerce lunch.
He said the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers’ meeting was one option, noting that the right people would be there.
“So to the extent that I can help make that possible, I will,” he said.
The US administration estimates expanding the agreement to drop duties on additional technology products could liberalize roughly US$1 trillion in global IT and communications trade, and increase annual global economic output by US$190 billion.