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WTO backs US, Japan in EU trade disput: USTR

By Doug Palmer and Foo Yun Chee

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A World Trade Organization panel has broadly backed the United States, Japan and Taiwan in their bid to overturn controversial EU tariffs on three electronics products, a U.S. trade official said on Monday in Washington.

"I can confirm that the panel agreed with the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan on essentially all of our claims," said the U.S. official, in response to published reports.

The official spoke on condition she not be identified because the interim panel ruling is still confidential.

The three countries sued the European Union at the WTO in July 2008, saying EU duties on flat-panel displays, multifunction printers and TV set-top boxes violated the WTO's Information Technology Agreement (ITA).

The agreement, which eliminates import duties on goods such as computer screens and printers, seeks to boost trade in high-tech goods around the world.

The panel handed its interim report to participants last Friday. A final report, which rarely makes substantial changes to the interim report, was expected in September.

"The report says that the EU's technology tariffs violate its obligations to the WTO," said a second source in Brussels, Both sources declined to provide more details.

The EU's executive commission said it was studying the report. "It is a technical, complex issue," spokesman John Clancy said. He declined to say more because the report was confidential.

John Neuffer, vice president for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council in Washington, said if reports of a victory for the United States, Japan and Taiwan "are accurate, this would be a an important pro-innovation, pro-growth, pro-jobs result."

He urged the EU "to quickly renounce its past flawed interpretations of the ITA, eliminate duties on the products at issue in the dispute, and implement the ITA as it should be implemented -- to spur growth and innovation globally."

The EU in September 2008 called for an overhaul of the ITA, saying new products and markets should be added to the list.