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WTO NEWS: 1996 PRESS RELEASES

PRESS/45
22 March 1996

WTO Director-General's statement on basic telecommunications negotiations

Mr. Renato Ruggiero, WTO Director-General, made the following statement (today) at a meeting of senior negotiators representing the 51 governments participating in the WTO negotiations on basic telecommunications:

“ I am grateful to you all for coming here today. I know that you are in the middle of an exhausting negotiation and that some of you have had to reschedule bilateral meetings to be here. But I thought it necessary to meet you and discuss the status of the basic telecoms negotiations because, to put it bluntly I think there is ground for concern about the amount of work still to be done in the very short time we have left...”

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“As I have said many times, this is a vitally important negotiation, not only in terms of the economic benefits that liberalization of telecoms services will confer on the rest of the world economy. It will also be important for the preparation of the Singapore Ministerial that this negotiation, which, together with those in Financial Services, Movement of Natural Persons and Maritime Services, make up four important steps for the multilateral system, is concluded on time and in a satisfactory way.

“With the stakes as high as they are, and given the strong demand of telecoms users that the negotiation should succeed, to let it fail would be simply unacceptable. I want to make it clear I am ready to do anything I can to help you bring it to success.

“Let me review what I am told is the current situation:

  • According to the agreed timetable for these negotiations, participants should have begun submitting offers in July of last year. You have also agreed that revised offers would be submitted on 8 January and that on 25 March - next Monday - final schedules on basic telecommunications would be tabled.
  • As of today, we have 37 full participants in the negotiations. This includes the European Union as 1, and the full participants account for a very large share of world trade in telecommunications. But of that 37 only 24 have so far submitted initial offers. Only 7 of these have so far submitted revised or improved offers.

“It is of course for each government involved to decide whether it will take commitments in this negotiation, and what those commitments should be. But I am concerned that although, as I understand it, many of you are in a position to make significant improvements in your offers, and that others who have so far made no offers are likely to be able to do so, governments appear to be holding back. If I am right, it is lack of time, not lack of will, that should concern us most. If everybody waits for others to move first there is a real danger of missing the deadline.

“The second issue I want to raise with you concerns the regulatory principles and the "Reference Paper" which has been under discussion. Reports I received following last month's discussions on this matter were encouraging; it seemed that a good deal of progress had been made. But in the meeting held earlier this week no further progress was made, although I think all of you would agree that this text really needs to be finished during this week. It is an important element of the negotiations, since some such principles will be essential to give real substance to market access commitments. Looking at the text, it seems to me that the remaining differences ought to be capable of resolution; some of them are mere drafting points. May I urge you to make your very best efforts today to get this element of the work finished, so that the text can be taken into account in your remaining bilateral negotiations.

“I am convinced that you can produce a good result by the agreed April deadline. I also believe that a good result will make a real important and valuable contribution to growth and to confidence in the world economy. I now want to hear your views on what we must all do to ensure that this happens.

Concluding comments

“I feel encouraged by this debate. It has shown that all the delegations are dedicated to a successful conclusion. The utmost importance of these negotiations has been recognized - indeed, it is one of the most important negotiations for the multilateral trading system.

“It is very clear from the comments we have heard that the deadline of 30 April is a target which will not be moved. We now need to increase the momentum of negotiation.”