Tag: wto

WTO frees IT goods from tariffs

cashThe World Trade Organisation (WTO) published a list of 201 IT products today that will be free from import tariffs – meaning many products will be cheaper.

The WTO’s aim is to boost different economies worldwide and the freedom of tariffs will have widespread implications.

According to Reuters, the list includes semiconductors, GPS systems, MRI machines, satellites, computers and hi-fi systems.

It’s 18 years since the WTO’s last list and the agreement, said to be worth $1.3 trillion, will mean goods will have zero import tariffs and will be duty free.

While not every country consulted has signed up to the deal, it’s expected that the chief five who didn’t will. Among those five of the 540 companies is Taiwan.

Countries which haven’t signed up need to consult with their governments before they sign on the dotted line.

Antigua punishes US with state blessed "piracy"

Antigua’s government has hit on a wizard wheeze to force the US to stop illegally killing off its internet gambling industry.

The US government went on a puritan push against online gambling under the Bush administration. Since the tiny country made most of its money from online gambling, the US set up a trade blockade.

A few years ago, five percent of all Antiguans worked at gambling related companies. However, when the US prevented the island from accessing its market, the industry collapsed.

The World Trade Organisation rulings were in favour of the small country and the US ignored them.

Now, Antigua’s government is planning to launch a website selling movies, music and software, without paying US copyright holders.

The idea is that the country will recoup some of the lost income through a WTO approved “warez” site.

It has been a long time coming. The WTO allowed Antigua the right to suspend US copyrights up to $21 million annually.

According to TorrentFreak, the authorities want to launch a website selling US media to customers worldwide, without compensating the makers.

While the country will make money from the move, it is likely to drive Big Content insane. They will then lean on their tame US Senators to smooth things over.

The US saw which way this was going and tried to stop the WTO talking about it. However, the plan will be talked about this month and if Antigua succeeds, its media hub is expected to launch soon after.

Any business set up by Antigua to sell music, film and software cannot be considered piracy. It will be just as legitimate and legal as a regular shop.

The amusing thing is that the US’s puritan moves to stop gambling will have to be paid for by Hollywood and the software companies.

The US has warned that if Antigua does not do what it is told and proceeds with a plan for its government to authorise the theft of intellectual property, it would only serve to hurt Antigua’s own interests.

Antigua will ruin its chances of getting a settlement. Given that the US has not shown that it is willing to give any settlement so far, that is not much of a threat. 

Rare earth shortage prompts supply security action

With tensions over rare earth trade showing no signs of abating, DEFRA says that it is important to raise awareness of the threat to the supply chain.

Last week DEFRA launched a bid to increase recycling of the materials as a means of buffering against further potential price rises, following ongoing battles to increase Chinese quotas.  This followed concern that UK businesses could be affected following supply disruption since 2010.

“We know larger businesses are already aware, and taking action to address risks in their supply chains,” a DEFRA spokesperson told TechEye, “but the smaller businesses or those further down the supply chain may not be aware of the risks for some of the materials they use.

“In the case of SMEs they’re less likely to have considered resource efficiency etc as a way of reducing risk.”

With the ongoing WTO discussions with China over trading of rare earths, DEFRA is hoping for an agreement that will enable easier trading of the minerals.

China produces the overwhelming majority of rare earths, which despite the name are in fact plentiful.  But with China reducing the quotas of REs available to foreign countries, ostensibly for environmental reasons, the EU and US have taken the problem up with the WTO.

DEFRA says it hopes for stability resulting in a trade agreement, in order to help firms which use rare earths in manufacturing.

“We are supportive of the WTO case as we support free trade,” DEFRA says. “However we cannot speculate on what the result of this resolution will be.”

“China owns over 95 percent of world production of RE – we only import it in raw form in very small quantities but it’s contained in many of the products we import.”

“It can be significant for importers in the UK but probably more so for those companies for whom RE is in a component of manufacture.”

UK plans rare earth recycling project

The government is hoping that recycling rare earth materials could protect businesses in the UK from being buffeted by rising costs.

Against a backdrop of EU and US appeals to the World Trade Organisation regarding China’s relative monopoly over the valuable minerals, the government has launched an initiative to bolster security against fluctuating prices.

With China producing the vast majority of rare earths, UK businesses can feel the force of high demand.

In order to tackle this, the Resource Security Action Plan seeks to ensure that rare earths that do enter the UK supply chain, often through consumer electronics, are recycled more effectively.

It is expected that there will be aroud 12 million tonnes of electrical equipment to be dumped in the UK by 2020, much of it coming from PCs and laptops.  Within this mountain of binned electronics the government sees a treasure trove of rare earth materials that could offer protection from fluctuating prices.

Part of the problem is a ”lack of readily available information about resource risks which may affect UK businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises”.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that there is not a particular fear that we will run out of rare earth materials anytime soon, but the problem of access, as production slowly moves away from China, remains a concern.

The plan proposes the launch of a “dashboard” to ensure that smaller businesses are aware of supply problems.

The government will also look to support innovative approaches to recycling rare earths, with a £200,000 fund on offer to support efforts by businesses.

DEFRA believes that there are potentially substantial financial benefits to be had in creating businesses which recycle rare earth materials. It will be working with groups such as the Technology Strategy Board to look at opportunities.

US, EU and Japan take Chinese rare earth dispute to WTO

The US is leading a push against a Chinese stranglehold on rare earth minerals, with the EU and Japan also planning to take a case to the World Trade Organisation.

Following the publishing of a report by the Associated Press, President Obama is expected to announce today that the trio will demand talks with China over rare earth exports.

The complaint to the WTO will claim that China has been cutting exports to ensure that prices are kept high, despite claims of environmental needs.

China is in control of roughly 95 percent of rare earth production and has previously riled foreign nations by cutting exports.

Rare earths are used in countless applications, most notably in cutting edge electronics and in military defence. Prices have soared when China has withheld exports – in the past, products such as hard drives became 10 percent more expensive as rare earth prices fluctuated.

Japan has been at the brunt of China’s cuts, when a dispute erupted that led to China withholding any rare earth exports at all.

The EU has also vented its frustration in the past, with China’s claims that it had cut exports on environmental grounds were met with suspicion.  TechEye was told by EU representatives last year that it was prepared to take the dispute all the way to the WTO, and it appears it will be following through.

There have been initiatives to move production of the valuable minerals away from China. China’s near monopoly on the minerals at the moment is shaking world leaders elsewhere, who are beginning to fully address the need to find new resources elsewhere. A full announcement is expected soon.

WTO's ruling on China raw material exports stinks

A WTO report attacking China’s exports of raw materials has cast doubts of reliability.

Dr Xiaolan Fu, a University Lecturer in Development Studies at the Fellow of Green-Templeton College, University of Oxford has said the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling casts aspersions of double standards.

Her comments come as trade judges ruled earlier this week that China violated trade law by restricting exports of certain raw materials, which were crucial for industrial production, as well as in the electronics world.

The WTO was following up on complaints from the US, the European Union and Mexico, which grumbled that the restraints China imposed on the raw materials, including various forms of bauxite, coke, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon carbide, silicon metal, yellow phosphorus and zinc, were unfair.

They said the restrictions discriminated against foreign manufacturers and gave an unfair advantage to domestic producers who use them. The ruling mostly focused on raw materials, but also touched on rare earth minerals, which are widely used in technology such as smartphones, tablets, cars and PCs.

Due to the restrictions, the claims went, there has been a limited supply in the global market which meant higher prices.

In its findings, the WTO ruled that China’s export duties were inconsistent with the commitments China had agreed to in its Protocol of Accession. It said that the export quotas imposed by China on some of the raw materials were inconsistent with WTO rules.

In its defence, China said it had kept in with the regulations for some of the raw materials. However, it said for other raw materials its export quotas and duties were necessary for the protection of the health of its citizens.  

However, the WTO argued that China was unable to demonstrate its export duties and quotas would lead to a reduction of pollution in the short- or long-term – and therefore contribute towards improving the health of its people.

The rulings, according to Dr Fu, are more than likely to be challenged by China, as well as being questionable.

She tells TechEye: “China in the 80s and 90s was the main exporter of minerals but the economy has now changed. There are many minerals in the world but the ones China exports are needed for the electronics industry.

“The drive for the report seems to be more about the metals needed for this industry, and if this is the case I’m not confident that the report is fair. Despite it claiming to be a general ruling, it seems it was written in light and in target of these materials. If this is the case there are doubts of the reliability of the report,” she said.

“China has always been open about putting bans on certain exports out of the country.

“And there’s also a hint of double standards going on here. It’s been forced to put a limit on the quota of exports such as textiles, but then when China moves to do the same with other materials it’s found in breach of regulations.

“Further research of the report is needed and it is highly likely that China will appeal this.”

ACTA designed to exploit Third World

French NGO La Quadrature Du Net has sifted through US diplomatic cables released by Nobel Prize nominee Wikileaks and uncovered details surrounding the dreaded Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

According to La Quadrature, the cables state Japan was approached by the USA to chalk up a “gold-standard” IPR (intellectual property rights) agreement “among a small number of like-minded countries,” i.e. countries whose corporate wealth is based, to a large degree, on creating and enforcing intellectual property.

Japan wanted to ask the OECD to help out, but the USA claimed it had enough expertise to draw on. International bodies were not included in designing the ACTA which instead was written in secret. The next step was to push the proposed agreement down the throats of other countries, especially developing nations. Mexico, Jordan and Morocco were approached. Jordan and Morocco, adopters of US IPR measures, were ensnared to make ACTA look good on paper.

Mexico played what La Quadrature called a “good cop”, trying to ward off “…Brazilian efforts to undermine IPR in international health organisations”. It is in the interest of developing nations to limit IPR in the health arena in order to supply their citizens with adequate levels of medical treatment and healthcare without having to pay bucketloads of money to pharmaceutical companies and corporations in the West.

India already threatened to throw ACTA out of the window last year June, as the country was furious that both the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) had been bypassed. The cables are a smoking gun showing it was a concerted effort on behalf of the USA and its collaborator Japan to create an agreement in a non-democratic, un-transparent process aiming at exploiting the rest of the world.

As a course of strategy, Japan and the US decided to engage in direct negotiations with EU member countries instead of the European Commission (EC). A major problem for the EU is that it speaks with many voices, no matter how hard the EU institutions try to unify opinion and interests. The US and Japanese chose their approach to exploit internal quibbling and dissent.

Italy was peeved about the EC getting involved and would have liked only a few other EU member countries to chat to the US. Portugal however was happy the EC became involved. The entire process became bogged down in Europe, due to quarrelling about the competencies of the EC and the member countries.

In the end, the EC had concerns about the lack of transparency for the entire process, fearing the US were negotiating the text and process with its industry, something the EC was not allowed to do. La Quadrature quotes a Swedish official who stated that “the secrecy around the negotiations has led to the legitimacy of the whole process being questioned.”

Last year June, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice said she would not sign an agreement trying to introduce the Three-Strikes Rule and asked the agreement to be made public.

The biggest problem for the EC, apart from the process designed to be beneficial to the US and its economic interest, was also the omission of protection of geographical indications. Lack of such protection could, for instance, lead to foreign food companies labelling products as “Parmegiano-Reggiano”, or Parmesan cheese, despite not being made in the designated, original areas of production.

While the cables do not reveal anything new, they nonetheless add more details to the history of ACTA, an agreement which ought to be immediately thrown out of the window by the EC and EU member states, along with its backers.

EU "monitoring" rare earths saga

Officials from the EU warned today they were keeping a close eye on the situation of China’s restrictions on rare earths exports.

The EU said at a conference with the World Trade Organisation in Berlin that it was watching China’s actions for possible legal implications, Reuters reports.

When Frank Hoffmeister, a top aide of European trade chief Karel De Gucht, was asked whether the EU planned legal action against China over the reported export restrictions, he responded: “It is clear we are monitoring the situation quite closely. We need to have clear facts.”

Meanwhile, the head of the WTO, Pacal Lamy, stressed that global trade talks needed to restart if the world wanted to escape the uncertainty surrounding rare earths supply.

He added that there was a need for better international trade rules in resource sectors.

The news followed Germany announcing that the market for rare earths, used to manufacture all kinds of high-tech products such as computers and mobile phones, had become “critical”. And there are fears that China, responsible for producing 97% of the world’s supply of rare earths, plans to slap more restrictions on exports.

Various countries, including Japan, have been growing very nervous about China’s monopoly in the market, and have started looking for new suppliers or rare earths. The US has called the situation a potential threat to the US economy and national security.

German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle described his country as being “severely affected when it comes to energy resources and … rare earths which are growing scarce.”

“When speculation is rife, you lose the foundation in the economy,” he added. “And that is detrimental for the producing industries. Pricing frameworks must remain on our agenda.”

Meanwhile, a former WTO judged has said China may be not be in the best position to defend its export restrictions on rare earths.

According to Bloomberg, James Bacchus suggested today that China signed pledges that it would only tax or limit exports from a list of specific raw materials when it joined the WTO in 2001 – and that WTO rules prohibited export quotas.







WTO calls on EU to abolish technology tariffs

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has called on the European Union (EU) to abolish tariffs on imports of technology products, after receiving formal complaints from the US, Japan, and Taiwan.

The EU has operated a system of tariffs between six and 14 percent on a small range of technology goods that many other countries believe should fall under the 1996 Information Technology Agreement, when 70 countries, including EU members, agreed to eliminate duties on IT products, which would total several billion a year otherwise.

The EU, however, argued that certain products were not high-tech enough to fall under this Agreement and were thus subject to tariffs. These included flat-panel displays, set-top boxes, and ADP MFMs (all-in-one printers which can scan, fax, or copy in addition to printing). 

A number of countries have been calling on the EU to reduce or abolish these tariffs for years, but considering that tariffs are worth several billion for these three types of products alone, it is not difficult to understand why the EU has been reluctant.

The three largest producers of technology products, the US, Japan, and Taiwan, were particularly vexed at the EU’s refusal to budge on the matter, bringing a case against it to the WTO in 2008. Now the WTO has made a ruling, accusing EU members states, which are also members of the WTO, of failing to meet WTO obligations. 

The WTO has found that the EU “has acted inconsistently” with a number of articles set out in the 1994 General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade and recommended that the Dispute Settlement Body request the EU conform with its recommendations, which are to return to full compliance with the agreements its member states have already signed with the WTO. 

If it fails to do this it may face possible WTO-mandated sanctions by the US, Japan, and Taiwan, which may in turn fuel a trade war that can only have a devastating effect on the world economy.

The EU has 60 days to appeal the WTO’s ruling.

ACTA drops key clauses

The EU has released a statement on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in which it implies that when the final agreement comes out it will not be as bad as many feared.

A draft text of the ACTA agreement will be made public  soon, according to the EU and it looks like there will be an international public consultation exercise.

It is intended to release this on Wednesday 21 April.

The EU said that ACTA will not interfere with a signatory’s ability to respect its citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties.

It will now be consistent with the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) and will respect the Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.

Practically there is no longer any proposal to oblige ACTA participants to require border authorities to search travellers’ baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing materials.

In addition, ACTA will not address the cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines.

“While the participants recognise the importance of responding effectively to the challenge of Internet piracy, they confirmed that no participant is proposing to require governments to mandate a ‘graduated response’ or ‘three strikes’ approach to copyright infringement on the Internet,” the EU said.

It is starting to look like the EU has forced the ACTA out into the open and managed to make the others move away from a “give big content what it wants” plans.