Bridging Digital Divide: PRIME’s Campaign for Pakistan Accession to ITA

WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA), concluded in 1996, is a plurilateral tariff cutting framework which requires complete elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on IT products covered in the agreement. In 2001, Government of Pakistan seriously considered joining this agreement and taxes/tariffs were rationalised on almost all ITA products. However, this decision was kept on hold and then reversed and duties and other taxes were imposed on IT products.

Since 2015, PRIME has been running a campaign to encourage the Government of Pakistan to sign Information Technology Agreement.

On 22nd April 2015, PRIME gave a presentation to Minister for Information Technology on the implications of Pakistan’s accession to this Agreement. Following the positive response from the Ministry, we then published a paper titled, “Information Technology Agreement: Why Pakistan should accede” authored by Dr. Manzoor Ahmad and Syed Talha Hasan, and supported by Atlas Network. This paper is available at: http://primeinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Information-Technology-Agreement-Why-Pakistan-Should-Accede-Position-Paper-Talha-Kazmi-Manzoor-Ahmad.pdf

On October 7, 2015 PRIME Institute organised a public seminar, “Boundaries in a Cyber World: Personal Freedom and State Imperatives” to develop a consensus on Pakistan’s accession to ITA with support from Friedrich Naumann Foundation. There were 53 participants in the event including government officials, representatives from private sector, social activists, media persons, representatives from diplomatic community and academia. While speaking at the conference senior officials from Ministry of Information Technology, Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan Software House Association, Pakistan Computer Association and Ministry of Industries and Production endorsed that Pakistan should sign this agreement.

PRIME’s efforts received a major boost when Pakistan’s Mission to WTO joined this campaign. They not only fully endorsed the proposal but also provided convincing arguments about the role of ITA in promoting e-commerce in the country and closing the digital gap with the rest of the world.

Later on, Ministry of IT officially accepted our recommendation and forwarded a summary to the Ministry of Commerce to accede to ITA. It enclosed the paper prepared by PRIME and also mentioned the work done by PRIME in its letter. The Ministry of Commerce after reviewing it, not only accepted the recommendation but also recommended to include ITA-II, that includes high end medical equipment. Ministry of Commerce then moved a summary to the Economic Coordination Committee for deliberations.

In April 2016, Executive Director of PRIME wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Office requesting to accord the policy deliberation on ITA. This request was positively received, and the Prime Minister established a high powered committee to examine Pakistan’s accession to the Information Technology Agreement. Secretaries from Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of IT, Ministry of Industries and Revenue Division including Dr. Manzoor Ahmad, President (Hon.) PRIME Institute are members of this committee.

On 2nd November 2016, the committee held its first meeting in which all the members, except FBR, supported Pakistan’s accession to ITA. Dr. Manzoor Ahmad has also presented a paper in that meeting explaining why Pakistan should accede to ITA.

PRIME Institute supports the federal government (Ministry of Information Technology and Ministry of Commerce in particular) in its efforts to harmonise Pakistan with international benchmarks on access to ICT and it is quite encouraging that government is now considering to sign ITA.

We have published and encouraged several op-eds for public education on this topic e.g. http://tribune.com.pk/story/1103861/step-in-right-direction-pakistan-needs-the-it-agreement/. PRIME Institute is quite hopeful that Pakistan will sign this much needed agreement in the greater benefit of its own people and economy.  You can also support this endeavour by endorsing, writing and speaking about it. For more details, please write to research@primeinstitute.org.

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