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WTO agrees further global trade liberalization

At the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held in Singapore from 9 to 13 December 1996, a number of initiatives which will lead to greater free trade were agreed. In particular, a major agreement to eliminate tariffs on products in the field of...
At the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held in Singapore from 9 to 13 December 1996, a number of initiatives which will lead to greater free trade were agreed. In particular, a major agreement to eliminate tariffs on products in the field of information technologies (IT) was reached.

The agreement on trade in IT products was signed by the European Union, the United States, Japan and Canada, and some ten other countries. These countries account for 82% of world IT trade. The agreement will enter into force when countries accounting for 90% of the trade in IT products have joined. Sir Leon Brittan, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for external trade policy, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the European Union, is confident that this threshold will be reached by March 1997.

The agreement provides for periodic reductions in customs duties, and other duties and charges, on a wide range of IT products, with complete abolition of duties by 1 January 2000 at the latest. The aim of the agreement is to maximize free trade in IT products, bearing in mind the contribution that these make to global economic growth and welfare.

In other areas, progress towards liberalization in telecommunications was made, with hopes of reaching a conclusion in the negotiations in this area by the deadline of 15 February 1997. A successful conclusion would liberalize global telecommunications markets, in particular, allowing greater access for non-national companies to countries' markets. Customs duties on 450 pharmaceutical products will also be removed, as an agreement reached extended the existing agreement in this area dating from the Uruguay Round, concluded in 1994.

The Conference also agreed that further work would be undertaken in areas such as trade and the environment, liberalization of services, and trade and economic growth. A Plan of Action to assist the least-developed countries in taking advantage of the opportunities offered by increasing free trade was also agreed.

Sir Leon Brittan stated at the conclusion of the Conference that it had been "a huge international success". The Conference had agreed clear objectives for the WTO in the run-up to the Millennium, he continued, with wide support for the Commission's approach.
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