US, EU agree to principles for information tech trade

* Principles promote free cross-border information flows

* Foreign gov’t actions have raised concern, USTR says

By Doug Palmer and Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS, April 4 (Reuters) – The United States
and the European Union said on Monday they had agreed on 10
principles for trade in information and communication
technology services they would push other countries to adopt.

The joint vision, which includes a call for the free flow
of information across borders, positions the world’s biggest
trading partners to spread their standards ahead of competition
from rising telecommunications powers such as China.

As the world become more connected through the Internet and
advances in information and communication technology (ICT),
U.S. and EU companies have a shared interest in creating an
trade framework with as few barriers as possible, U.S. Trade
Represenative Ron Kirk said in a statement.

“This is an important initiative. It stands to benefit some
of our most valuable, cutting-edge industries – industries that
are having a transformative effect on other sectors of our
economy, and empowering workers and consumers worldwide,” Kirk
said in a statement.

USTR said the need for initiative was underscored by recent
foreign government actions.

Those include placing restrictions on access to spectrum,
limiting the number of telecommunications licenses available to
foreign service providers, blocking voice over Internet
protocol (VOIP) phone calls, and requiring the use of local
network infrastructure and servers to deliver services that can
be supplied across borders, USTR said.

The joint principles also follow a paper last year by
search engine giant Google Inc (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) that estimated more
than 40 governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of
online information, a tenfold increase from a decade ago.

“These principles, which both the EU and the US will seek
to incorporate in their trade agreements with other countries,
will help to ensure that trade rules are used as an effective
tool to open up ICT markets worldwide,” EU telecoms chief
Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

One measure calls on governments to promote the ability of
consumers “to access and distribute information and run
applications and services of their choice.”

Another point urges governments to give foreign companies
adequate notice of new laws and regulations affecting the
sector and provide an opportunity to comment on provisions that
could adversely affect their business.

Worldwide adoption of the principles would open up new
opportunities for U.S. and EU companies, while helping “people
living in these countries to benefit from lower and more
competitive prices for ICT services, and to enjoy access to a
wider range of technologies,” an EU statement said.

“Market access in a number of countries is hindered by the
licensing regimes currently applied, which favour domestic
companies,” the EU said.

US, EU agree to principles for information tech trade