Friday, May 21, 2004

When is a computer monitor not a computer monitor?

As soon as it can be used to watch films or TV shows, which is increasingly often. Is that a problem? Well, yes, say customs officials. The EU imposes a 14 per cent import duty on consumer electronics in order to protect European TV manufacturers.

Computing equipment is shipped around the world without a duty. But the Dutch customs officials, together with the German and British ones, have decided that digital computer monitors that can be used as TV screens should have that import duty on them, as well. In fact, the Dutch have gone ahead and slapped it on. This caused shaking of heads and sucking of teeth, not because it is another tax – goodness me, no, but because the Dutch went alone, which is “simply unacceptable”, according to the director general of the European Information and Communication Technology Association, a lobbying group.

Alas, the obvious solution as far as the EU is concerned is to harmonize upwards. If the Dutch, or anyone else, want import duty on digital TV monitors, then everyone else should have one.

If passed, the rule will say that only those monitors that can be proved to be nothing but computer monitors will escape the duty. Once again, the EU, while spending much time and energy talking about the knowledge economy, is actually taking a step backwards in technology. As Bob Raikes, co-ordinator of a business group fighting the proposed duty, said to the International Herald Tribune: “Europe runs the risk of becoming an analog island, hanging on to kludgy technology while the rest of the world goes digital.” But, at least, it will be harmonized kludgy technology.

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