East, West protest EU's set-top tariffs

U.S., Japan challenge WTO agreement

BRUSSELS -- The U.S. and Japan have launched a joint World Trade Organization challenge aimed at overturning European Union tariffs on television set-top boxes capable of accessing the Internet.

The EU imposes a tariff as high as 14% on set-top box imports, but U.S. trade officials say they should be tariff-free under the conditions of the WTO's 1996 Information Technology Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the EU had added new duties in recent years on imports of specific high-tech products -- set-top boxes, flat-panel computer monitors and certain computer printers -- whose global exports were estimated at more than $70 billion in 2007.

However, the EU said the ITA does not apply when changes in technology mean a product now has multiple functions. The European Commission said set-top boxes -- which include a hard disk for the purpose of pausing live TV or recording but do not have the required interactive or Internet functions -- are properly classified as video recorders and thus fall outside the scope of the technology agreement.