> WTO news archives
> Speeches of former WTO Directors-General
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
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
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
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
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.
> Problems viewing this page?
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.