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Update for exporters: Trade wins and delays

By Taylor Sholler, SEMI

With trade policy dominating headlines in recent weeks, all eyes were on Maui in the waning days of August as trade ministers from twelve nations convened for perhaps the final time to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Such a pact between Pacific Rim economies would account for 40% of the world’s GDP.  However, last-minute hurdles on dairy, autos, and drug provisions proved to be the negotiators’ undoing and ministers left Hawaii with the promise of at least one more round of exhaustive deliberations in the fall.

Such is the pathway for a multilateral agreement like the TPP.  By all accounts, significant progress has been made but getting 12 countries to concur on a high-standard agreement to reduce both tariffs and non-tariff barriers has been arduous to say the least.  The business community remains optimistic nonetheless and will continue to support TPP conclusion— key for the U.S. SEM industries which export 80% of their products— later this year.

Conversely, a sector-specific trade agreement is a bit more straightforward and industry welcomed news just a week earlier that an agreement-in-principle was reached on the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA).  Originally agreed to in 1996, the ITA fosters free trade in tech and has sorely needed an update to account for the vast progress made through industrial innovation.  While this effort was not without its own obstacles, World Trade Organization (WTO) members came to an agreement in Geneva on July 24th to cut tariffs on more than 200 ICT products after more than three years of negotiations.

This deal between more than 50 nations is seen a major victory for the global economy and the semiconductor equipment and materials industries in particular. SEM-related items account of more than a dozen of the products on the expansion list, including machines and apparatus to manufacture boules, wafers, semiconductor devices and flat panel displays among other products of interest to SEMI members.

WTO trade ministers will now take the list back to their respective capitals for domestic consultations.  By November 1st, participating members must submit a draft schedule detailing their plans for national implementation.  The process should culminate during the WTO’s 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December 2015, with tariff elimination slated to begin July 2016.

The expanded agreement represents 97% of world trade in information technology products—an estimated $1.3 billion annual market.  However, the deal also contains a commitment to work to tackle non-tariff barriers in the IT sector, and to keep the list of products covered under review to determine whether further expansion may be needed to reflect future technological developments.

In what was already been a successful year for trade liberalization, negotiators should soon celebrate implementation of the largest WTO-driven tariff elimination deal in 19 years.  The process has breathed fresh life into the promise of sectoral trade pacts driven by market demand and targeted negotiations.  SEMI has worked closely with ITA negotiators throughout the process to ensure the inclusion of SEM items in the expanded list and this is something we hope to replicate in other market opening accords like the Environmental Goods Agreement as well.

The semiconductor supply chain is comprised of the most innovation and technologically advanced products in the world and trade agreements like the ITA play an exceedingly helpful role in the advancement of our industry.  WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo and trade negotiators around the world should be commended for their persistence on this important expansion effort. SEMI will continue to support the great work happening in Geneva and elsewhere to remove barriers to trade and improve business operations for our members.

For a complete list of items included in the expanded ITA, please visit:  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/ITA-expansion-product-list-2015.pdf

For those with trade-specific questions or concerns, SEMI maintains a dedicated international policy staff, led by Jonathan Davis, Global Vice President of Advocacy (jdavis@semi.org).

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