Director-General's speaking points — Geneva

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Thank you Ambassador Clarke,
Secretary General Dr. Hamadoun Touré of the ITU,
Madame Lakshmi Puri, Acting Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD,
Panellists, delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the last 10 years internet use has increased by 1500%. Mobile phone subscribers have increased 20 fold and world teledensity has moved from below 15% to over 60%.

These figures are a stark reminder of the collective vision of WTO members when 10 years ago they agreed to open trade in telecommunication services.

The rapid evolution of the telecommunication sector, both from regulatory and technological perspective, has brought about lasting changes to our economies and societies at large and is one reason that this sector merits our special attention today.

The dedicated negotiations on basic telecommunications — whose 10th anniversary we celebrate today — were born out of an initiative taken during the final year of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations. At the time, there was a very real prospect that basic telecommunications might be carved out of the new agreement then taking shape, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Very few governments had offered commitments on these services, deterred by what appeared to be a yawning gap between the openness of some markets and long-entrenched restrictions to trade in many others. Though a number of major players were contemplating opening trade in this sector at the time, these were still surrounded by a considerable degree of uncertainty.

At Marrakech in April 1994, Ministers thus agreed to launch the telecom negotiations — and these began within a month. By the end of the these sector-specific negotiations — a rare occurrence in the history of the multilateral system — sixty-nine governments had committed to open their telecom markets either with immediate effect or subject to specified implementation dates. This was a very impressive result when you consider that only eight countries permitted any competition of foreign operators in the sector when the negotiations began in 1994.

The participants in these extended negotiations demonstrated a unique dose of enthusiasm, reflecting both the seismic policy shifts away from closed markets and the galvanizing forces of the WTO negotiating process. The momentum has continued since. At present, over 100 WTO Members have commitments to open markets in some or all telecommunication services. And this increase in numbers is due not only to commitments agreed in the WTO accession process, but to autonomous improvements offered by current Members that had not initially participated in the extended negations. Again, the fact that countries volunteer commitments — out of economic self-interest — is a rare event in an organization that usually relies on (mercantilist) ”exchanges of concessions” between negotiators.

I am happy to see that the enthusiasm remains alive as demonstrated by your presence here today.

WTO Members from all regions and at all levels of development have commitments in place that allow companies from around the world to invest in their telecommunication sector and that eliminate restraints on cross-border communications. The commitments normally entitle new entrants to supply the most essential services, such as fixed and mobile telephony, Internet and leased-line capacity. A great many Members have also committed to telecom-specific regulatory obligations. These market access and regulatory commitments permit global networks and facilitate the emergence of global markets for the benefit of all WTO Members, and their businesses and consumers alike.

Telecommunications are emblematic of the highly integrated nature of modern economies: while the sector's own economic momentum depends on the existence of dynamic user industries, world-class communication links are today a sine qua non for a wide range of economic activities within services and beyond. Open and competitive markets are clearly decisive in this integrated environment. Indeed, sectors such as computer services and mobile telephony are thought to have experienced remarkable growth precisely because they were introduced in an environment relatively free of trade restrictions.

Lower-cost access to advanced communication services and equipment promotes growth across virtually all sectors, from agriculture and mining to manufacturing, by linking producers with customers in a timely and efficient manner. Activities such as E-commerce, on-line travel and hotel reservations, financial services, transport, professional services, and a host of business support services, are but a few examples.

The benefits from opening trade in telecoms cuts across developed and developing countries. In recent years, information and communication technologies have enabled economies from India to Ireland to develop and rapidly expand international outsourcing. In Egypt, for example, mobile subscriptions have increased by 45% per year and Internet users have grown from 600 000 to over six million from 2001 to 2006. The Egyptian success in attracting foreign investment and outsourcing contracts in these sectors has resulted in over $500 million in exports of communications, computer and information services in 2006.

Small and medium-sized enterprises in many economies have also benefited from the adoption of IT and mobile telephony to improve their business and trade prospects. Today a barber in South Africa can deposit his customer receipts over a mobile phone (so called M-banking) rather than spending a half day walking to the nearest bank.

The WTO's General Agreement on Trade in services (GATS) created a new paradigm for trade in services and provided a legal framework for the opening of such trade among Members. It provides the stability and predictability of regulatory conditions needed to facilitate the expansion of services trade. It offers an effective framework to consolidate wide-ranging policy reforms, which often take many years, much political will, and hard work to put into place.

As we blow the ten candles for the basic telecommunications agreement, I would like to encourage all of you to follow this example in the on-going services negotiations under the Doha Round. Your presence and enthusiasm here today can and must inspire trade negotiators to make a quantum leap in the services chapter of the Doha Round. Your economies need modern services whether in finance, distribution, energy or the environment. By committing to further open trade in these sectors and by improving your domestic regulations in these areas you are investing in the future.

It is in therefore in your hands to create a more open and balanced trading system and to lay sustainable foundations for growth and development in the 21st Century.

My best wishes for a fruitful Symposium.

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