The World Trade Organization set up a panel to examine a dispute over the European Union’s tariffs on high-tech goods, a WTO spokeswoman said.

The United States, Japan and Taiwan say the EU, officially known at the WTO as the European Communities (EC), is violating a 1996 WTO deal to limit barriers on trade in high-tech goods such as satellite boxes, flat panel computer monitors and digital scanners and printers.

“The EC’s actions not only impede trade in these products, they also threaten to undermine tariff commitments on information technology products, which are so important to trade and investment in both developing and developed countries,” the United States told the WTO’s dispute settlement body.

The row centers on the interpretation of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which eliminated duties on a range of high-tech goods from July 1997 to encourage trade.

But since 2005 the EU has re-imposed duties on new versions of computer screens, multi-function printers and TV set-top boxes that can access the Internet, classifying those as consumer products rather than simply high-tech goods.

Washington estimates that global exports of the products covered by the WTO dispute, which are made by companies like Hewlett-Packard Co. of the United States or Canon Inc. and Ricoh Co., Ltd. of Japan, total more than $70 billion.

Last week Brussels called for the ITA to be overhauled and updated to add new products and include more markets than the current 70 economies that have signed up to date.

Taiwan welcomed the EU’s proposal, but said the products in the dispute were covered by the current ITA and so were entitled to duty-free treatment.

“As one of the largest suppliers of IT products in the world, our trade interests have been seriously injured by the EC’s measures,” Taiwan said in a statement to the WTO.

The EU expressed regret that the other countries had not agreed to a review of the ITA as provided for in the agreement.

“We remain confident that the products in question in these disputes are correctly classified and receive the tariff treatment provided for in the EC schedules of concessions, and we are consequently ready to defend our position before a panel,” it said in a statement.

The EU rejected the initial request for a panel last month, but under WTO rules could not block it a second time. (Reuters)