EC wants tech-goods pact revisited

Agreement covers 97% of world trade in IT

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Monday proposed renegotiating a 70-nation deal on the global trade in MP3 players, set-top boxes, DVD players and other high-tech goods. The move follows litigation brought by the U.S., Japan and Taiwan against Brussels for breaking the agreement.

The information technology agreement, agreed to in 1996, covers more than 97% of world trade in IT -- a market worth $1.5 trillion annually, or a fifth of all global trade in goods. It scrapped customs duties on IT products, but has not been updated since.

"It risks being left behind after 12 years of technological development," EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said. He said that IT products continue to face such barriers as overly burdensome red tape to certify compliance.

The proposal, lodged at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, also hopes to head off the WTO challenge by the U.S., Japan and Taiwan on EU tariffs covering television set-top boxes capable of accessing the Internet. The EU imposes a tariff as high as 14% on set-top box imports, arguing they are so new that they fall outside the scope of the ITA.