Morocco has joined a WTO agreement on removing all tariff barriers to information technology (IT) products such as personal computers and telecoms equipment. The step is expected to attract foreign investors and promote local industries by making IT products cheaper for Moroccans.

Morocco’s Ambassador to the WTO, Omar Hilale, had presented his country’s membership request to the organisation’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA) on 5 November this year. The WTO today announced that Morocco had been formally admitted to the ITA group of countries last Friday.

Mr Hilale said that Morocco’s imports of IT products have been rising in recent years "due to tariff cuts," adding that Rabat intends to eliminate most of these tariffs by 1 April 2004 under the ITA. Participation in the ITA means that the country must eliminate tariffs and all other duties and charges on covered IT imports from all WTO members.

Ambasador Hilale further said that joining the ITA would make prices of IT inputs in Morocco more competitive and "send the right signal to foreign investors."

IT inputs, including telecom services, generally are heavier priced in developing countries than in industrialised countries and thus often raise the hurdles for foreign investments. For example, the costs of using internet in Morocco are in average eight times that of France.

Morocco has however often been described as a forerunner of telecom liberalisation in the developing world due to its early reforms of the sector. Maroc Telecom has been privatised, producing sales revenues for the government of several billion euros. French Vivendi Universal is now the main shareholder.

The Moroccan reform efforts are however reported to have come to a standstill during the latest years. Market monopolies by giant companies such as Maroc Telecom have led to inflated prices in the telecom sector. Also tariff barriers on IT products - which now are to be removed - have contributed to a low international competitiveness.

Morocco will be the 61st country joining the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement, according to the organisation. This membership now accounts for "about 97 percent of world trade in IT products," WTO says.

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