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Association Bisnow
June 5, 2008


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Rhett Dawson, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council is coming out swinging against the European Union. What’s his beef? In recent years the EU has placed tariffs up to 14% on products like cable boxes, computer monitors and printers, a practice Rhett says violates the World Trade Organization’s 1996 Information Technology Agreement. The ITIC has jumped into the fight, working with US Trade Rep. Susan Schwab on a case the Bush Administration filed last week with the WTO in Geneva.   


Rhett isn’t actually a baseball fan; he got the bat as a joke gift because he’s a tough guy, as the EU may soon see. When we swung by his Metro Center office (get it?), the former Reagan aide called the EU tariff a “tax on innovation” costing ITIC members (like Microsoft and Canon) billions of dollars. The EU, according to Rhett, is finding creative ways to tax tech products that should be exempt under the ’96 treaty. For instance, claiming that all-in-one printers are really copiers and therefore taxable. Or saying that monitors (like the Apple 19-incher on Rhett’s desk, below) aren’t covered because they can receive a television signal, even though if you tried to watch Oprah on the thing all you would get is snow.


While the Feds are doing most of the case work, ITIC has hired WilmerHale to lend a hand with background research. The WTO case isn’t likely to start until late summer or early fall, and Rhett expects it’ll take 18 months to resolve. But if the Yanks win, the EU will have to give back billions it collected in taxes. The ITIC is hoping it can play a role in delivering that kind of big victory to its members, whose numbers have grown from 32 to 42 over the last five years and now account for $7 million in revenue.              


Rhett might not be at the helm when the case is resolved. After 15 years as the ITIC CEO, he’s retiring at the end of ‘08 to spend more time with his family (read: play more golf at Burning Tree). He’s got a 19 handicap, and sometimes plays with others from the association world like Career College Association CEO Harris Miller. Information Technology Association of America CEO Phil Bond asked to join in, but Rhett says jokingly: “I’ll take him out when he gets his game together.”    

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