US trade rep attacks European electronics tariffs at CES

According to US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, the US is now considering taking action with the WTO over existing and proposed European tariffs on LCDs, set top boxes, and MFDs.

In front of an audience comprised of marketers clearly interested in selling their more of their products into international markets, speakers at this week's CES show have spoken out strongly in favor of the types of trade agreements that can enable such markets to prosper.

In a keynote address earlier this this week, Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), contended that in order to keep up the flow of CE products into US homes, manufacturers need trade deals that will keep costs down on both making and selling products in foreign markets.

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Getting even more specific today, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said that the US is considering taking action with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over tariffs that the EU is either imposing or trying to impose on electronics products such as liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, set-top boxes, and multifunctional devices (MFDs).

According to Schwab, these tariffs violate the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a pact among 70 WTO members from developed nations to get rid of tariffs on information technology (IT) goods.

The EU, however, has claimed that many of these products are not covered by the ITA. For example, the EU considers LCDs over 19 inches in size to be TVs -- and TVs are not covered by the ITA.

The US and EU are also at odds over whether "convergence" devices -- such as multifunctional printer/copier/fax machines -- are covered by the ITA.

Meanwhile, EU nations haven't hesitated to play the WTO card when lobbying in Washington, DC on behalf of European economic interests.

For instance, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson went to Washington last fall to try to convince Congress to repeal a ban on Internet gambling, signed into law in 2006. Comm. Mandelson he said that ban was unfair to Europe, where much of the world's gambling operations are based.

At a Capitol Hill press gathering in November, Mandelson reportedly accused the US of "defaulting on its commitments" as a WTO member.

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