December 13, 1996 5:30 PM ET

High-tech companies line up behind WTO pact

By Margaret Kane

  A slew of U.S. IT companies today applauded the World Trade Organization's tariff-ending deal signed yesterday in Singapore.

Compaq Computer Corp., Intel Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Apple Computer Inc. and the American Electronics Association were among the organizations that endorsed the deal, which would remove tariffs on a host of software and telecommunications products by the end of 1999.

"I applaud the vision of the negotiators," said Compaq CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer in a release. "Information technology will continue to change our lives, and the Internet's potential as an engine of economic growth must be fueled."

Officials from 28 nations yesterday signed the Information Technology Agreement, which eliminates tariffs on the world market in computer-related products—worth almost $600 billion.

Analysts and high-tech companies alike said the agreement was needed to encourage growth in the industry, particularly in Asia, and would lead to lower prices for consumers.

The savings won't just come from the elimination of duties, added Cris Freiwald, president of the international division at Inacom Corp., of Omaha, Neb. The complexity of determining how much to pay individual countries has bumped up administrative and legal costs for many businesses that sell overseas.

"What [this] will do is improve productivity," Freiwald said. "It will allow us to export without complexity and risk. There will be savings on every order as a result of this. That's why we're excited about it."

The AEA estimates the amount of money spent on import tariffs to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

William Archey, president of the AEA, called the deal "a big tax cut for U.S. consumers and global high-tech trade. … Users, producers and exporters of information technology equipment in all countries are going to benefit from the ITA."

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