IECEE celebrates WTO ITA 15th anniversary

Issue 40 – July 2012

The past 15 years have seen the extraordinary growth of the ICT (information and communication technology) sector. The emergence of mobile devices, and their immediate success in markets worldwide, has provided an additional boost to a sector that was already expanding rapidly.

ICT sector vital for world economy

Back in 1996, recognising the need to facilitate trade in IT (information technology) products, 28 WTO (World Trade Organization) member countries worked together to overcome political and technical obstacles and signed the WTO ITA (Information Technology Agreement). Since then, the number of participants has grown to 74. Between them, they represent about 97% of world trade in IT products. In its 15 years of existence the ITA has played a major role in promoting access to those technologies.

The ICT sector is vital for the world economy not only because of its size but also because it is an important driver of productivity, innovation, and economic growth.

Symposium to celebrate 15 years of cooperation

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the ITA, the WTO held a symposium on 14 – 15 May 2012, in Geneva, Switzerland. The event was open to all WTO members and observers, the private sector, IT industry representatives, academic experts in IT technologies, international inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, and journalists.

The purpose of the symposium was threefold.

  • To conduct a review of trade liberalisation and the evolution of global trade in ICT products since 1996, and their impact on developing countries.

  • To have an overview of the latest developments in the ICT sector – new technology, technological innovation, and the global supply chain – of the socio-economic benefits and of ICT as an enabler of sustainable development.

  • To look towards the future: what are the prospects for, and challenges of, a further expansion of trade in ICT products?

ITA one of the most successful trade agreement

In his welcome address, Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General, said that the ICT sector is vital for the world economy not only because of its size but also because it is an important driver of productivity, innovation and, ultimately, economic growth. Since 1996, and the launch of one of the most successful trade agreements ever, world exports of IT products have almost tripled, reaching an overall value of USD 1.4 trillion in 2010.

Lamy further stated that, although developed countries still account for a large share of the investment and consumption of IT products, in recent years investment in this sector has increased considerably in emerging economies such as China, India, and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. These have now turned into indispensable producers and consumers in global value chains of IT products.

Access to technology for developing countries

Lamy pointed out that the ITA has also benefited countries that are not signatories of the agreement. The rapid evolution in ICT has made a great difference to all aspects of everyday life everywhere. Wireless technology and access to cheap mobile phones have increased overall economic efficiency and, far more importantly, have empowered millions of people around the world.

Key role of conformity assessment

Because conformity assessment is regarded as a key factor in facilitating free trade and economic development, Pierre de Ruvo, IECEE Executive Secretary, was invited by the WTO to make a presentation during the Symposium. His address took place on the second day, in a part of the programme that dealt with 'Challenges and possible solutions to expanding trade in ICT products'.

IECEE contributes to the WTO ITA's objectives

After a brief introduction to the IEC, de Ruvo's presentation focused on IECEE, the IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components, explaining its scope, membership, and Schemes – the CB Scheme and the CB-FCS (Full Certification Scheme). He further explained why IECEE certification ensures that safe and efficient products reach the markets, and helps reduce and, ultimately, eliminate obstacles to trade. This is of particular interest in the WTO ITA context since the IECEE product categories that cover IT equipment are among those that issue the greatest number of certificates each year, granting safety and efficient use of IT equipment.

Bringing developing countries onboard

In the second part of his delivery, de Ruvo presented the IEC Affiliate Country Programme for developing countries, stating what the advantages are for participating countries. He then went on to talk about the new IECEE Affiliate status, launched earlier this year, which grants IEC Affiliate Countries observer status in the IECEE System, offers them a form of participation in conformity assessment activities without the financial burden of actual membership, and allows them to make full use of the IECEE 100% electronic environment.

This new development and the recent inclusion of new services, such as energy efficiency, in the IECEE portfolio, contribute to positioning the IECEE System as a key player in furthering the success of the WTO ITA.

Reproduced from IEC newsletter, e-tech, June 2012

Published in business and ICT.