> WTO news archives
Statement by Pascal Lamy
Your Excellency Ambassador Stephenson,
Mr. Jens, CEO, Philips Consumer Electronics Europe,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me welcome you to the WTO Information
Technology Symposium to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the
Information Technology Agreement, or more precisely, to celebrate the
10-year operation of the Information Technology Agreement!
This is the third Symposium organized by the
WTO on Information Technology products. The rapid evolution of this
product sector which has brought about revolutionary changes to our
societies at large is the reason that this particular sector, among
others, merits our special attention.
You may recall that the negotiations on
duty-free-treatment for IT products started with an initiative among a
small group of WTO Members in the months before the first WTO
Ministerial Conference held in Singapore in December 1996. By the time
of the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information
Technology Products at that conference, the number of countries and
economies involved had expanded to 29. The Ministerial Declaration was
the precursor of the WTO Information Technology Agreement. These
countries and economies were seeking rapid opening aimed at
duty-free-treatment for a group of products related to information
technology, including computers, telecommunications, semiconductors,
semiconductor manufacturing equipment, software, and scientific
instruments. In April 1997, the condition for the ITA to enter into
force was met when 11 additional WTO Members joined in , bringing the
total trade of IT products covered by the Agreement to 90 per cent.
Today, 70 WTO Members, representing 97 percent
of world trade in IT products are participants to the ITA. They are
committed to duty-free imports of these products on a
Most-Favoured-Nation basis. As a result, all 150 WTO Members benefit
from this liberalization. World exports of ITA products over the past 10
years have more than doubled in dollar terms, reaching US$ 1450 billion
in 2005 with annual average growth of 8.5 per cent. In 2005, trade on
ITA products accounted for 14 per cent of the world merchandise exports,
exceeding that of agricultural products, and textiles and clothing
together. I believe that it is therefore fair to say that the ITA has
been a major success since the establishment of the WTO.
This success is all the more impressive since
the opening of this product sector was achieved without the usual
negotiating process of give-and-take across all product sectors. The
liberalization was a self-contained sectoral initiative that grew out of
the potential benefits recognized by the participants to their national
development policies. Information technologies are changing our
societies in the XXI century, as steam engines did in the XIX century
and automobiles in the XX century.
Information technologies are powerful tools
and instruments. They have the potential to increase productivity,
generate economic growth, create jobs and employment, and improve the
quality of life for all. They can reduce many traditional obstacles on
doing business, especially those of time and distance. They have
facilitated the process of globalization by speeding the flow of
information and rendering communication, products and materials cheaper
than ever before. At the same time, the process of globalization has
intensified competition and innovation, and expanded world trade in both
goods and services.
The elimination of tariffs for ITA products
makes it possible to use the potential of these technologies for the
benefit of millions of people in all corners of the world. Information
intensive and IT-enabled industries and services — E-commerce,
E-tourism, on-line travel or hotel reservations, financial, transport,
and professional services — have developed through lower-cost
communications networks as well as IT equipment made cheaper through
economies of scale in the global economy. Furthermore, manufacturing
processes, agricultural distribution networks, and even producers of
primary products benefit by linking with customers in a timely,
efficient, and less costly manner. Let me tell you that IT technology is
moving so fast that staff in my office is already fearing the day when I
will be able not only to hear but also to see what they do while I
travel around the world!
Other areas of the WTO are also relevant to
the IT sector. For example, the General Agreement on Services, the TRIPS
and Technical Barriers to Trade Agreements together with the ITA,
promote a predictable regulatory environment.
Under the General Agreement on Trade in
Services (GATS), for example, telecommunications and computer services
are known as IT-enablers. More than 100 WTO Members have taken
commitments to open their markets to competition in telecommunication
services, often allowing new foreign entrants to supply the most basic
services such as fixed and mobile telephony. It was well understood that
the efficient, low-cost communications were so vital to a country's
infrastructure, that most Members also adopted additional telecom
regulatory principles. Computer services are covered by commitments of
more than 80 Members. The commitments allow market access for services
such as software development, programming and database maintenance.
As users of information technologies, the WTO
Secretariat is grateful to the ITA and IT industry. Without the
application of IT, it would not be possible to fulfil our day to day
tasks, serve our Members in their negotiations, handle hundreds and
thousands of trade data and legal commitments or maintain data-bases. We
would not be able to communicate so easily with our Member Governments,
stakeholders of the multilateral trading system, and the public. The WTO
website was launched in 1996 the same year as the ITA. The number of
visits to the site in that first year averaged about 3000 per month.
According to our records, in October 1997, the web-site had 30,000
visits, 1 million hits, and 14 gigabytes of downloads. 10 years later,
in October of last year, the visits had risen to over 1 million, hits to
almost 40 million and downloads to 1,000 gigabytes! That is to say the
growth of visits and hits in 10 years had multiplied by more than 30
times while downloads by more than 70 times.
This Symposium provides a unique opportunity
for all stakeholders, the IT industry, private sector and academics to
interact directly with the ITA Participants. The hope is that
representatives from governments, private sector, industry associations
and the relevant international organizations will leave with a better
understanding of their respective concerns, interests and objectives in
this sector. The Symposium will also provide an opportunity to review
the operation of the ITA over the past decade and the increased
participation of developing countries. With the most recent accession of
the United Arab Emirates, developing members are now the majority of the
ITA participation. While the IT sector continues to be a significant and
growing share of the investment in developed countries, IT spending is
increasing most rapidly in emerging economies, such as India, China,
Indonesia or South Africa. In recent years, the application of IT has
enabled India to develop its international sourcing, and China to
develop its capacity for manufacturing IT products and the Internet.
Many African and Latin American countries have also benefited from
IT-enabled industries and services, such as the use of IT and mobile
telephony applications by the SMEs in some African countries to improve
their business and trade efficiency. Experience has also shown how small
economies can benefit from the globalization of the IT sector.
Finally, this Symposium will look into the
dynamics of the IT sector, including the latest developments in
technological convergence, the impact of globalization, and the
challenges to further expansion of trade under the ITA.
As we embark into the last lap of the Doha
Development Agenda negotiations, it is important to keep in mind the
contribution that an ambitious initiative to cut barriers to trade in
industrial products, such as the ITA, can make to development throughout
the entire spectrum of the WTO membership. I hope that the ITA example
will inspire trade negotiators as they seek convergence on cutting
tariffs and non-tariffs barriers on industrial products in the Doha
Round. The ITA is a clear evidence that trade negotiations can be a
win-win game. And trade negotiators should meditate this example : Goods
and services that were invented recently are traded freely, which
probably means that tariffs are a thing of the past. Let them think
about the future!
Let me wish you great success in your
deliberations and a fruitful Symposium.
> Problems viewing this page?
Please contact email@example.com giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.