Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré
Annual Investment Meeting
Going for gold in frontier and emerging markets as investment destinations
8 April 2014, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Dubai today, and to have this opportunity to discuss investment principles – especially in this region.
As the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, I have a unique perspective on this issue.
And the reason I have a unique perspective is because ours is a unique organization – with 193 Member States and over 700 private sector and academic members.
Over the past twenty years in particular we have seen the vital importance of the public and private sectors working together – and I will give you some good examples from this region in a few moments.
The key is for governments to encourage rather than discourage corporate investment and there are many ways they can act to do this.
Let me first, however, say a few words about just why the ICT sector is so important in today’s world – and why we need to encourage investment in this particular sector.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Firstly, there is still huge untapped potential. While over three quarters of people in the developed world now have access to the internet, for example, more than two thirds of people in the developing world still do not.
And let’s not forget that ICTs – and in particular broadband networks – offer perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make rapid and profound advances in global social and economic development.
This is of tremendous and timely importance, as we approach the cusp between the MDGs next year, and the beginning of the post-2015 development process.
By delivering efficiencies across so many areas – from education and healthcare to transportation, water and energy – broadband networks can quickly pay for themselves, creating a virtuous circle of investment, productivity and human development.
This is why ‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’ has been chosen as the theme for ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference, which has been taking place right here in Dubai since 30 March, and which finishes the day after tomorrow.
Broadband rollout depends – of course – on investment, and it is important to recognize that the ICT sector is highly capital-intensive, particularly in the early stages of rolling out complex technical infrastructure. Later on – when the networks are up and running – this is not so true; but first we need to get the networks rolled out.
Two years ago, in March 2012, ITU held the Connect Arab States Summit in Doha, Qatar, as part of our series of ITU Connect the World Summits.
These regional summits – which ran from 2007 to 2013 – were designed to mobilize the financial, human and technical resources needed to expand ICT networks and access as a means of spurring investment, employment and broader social and economic development in each region of the world.
The ITU Connect Arab States event was an extraordinary summit, bringing together a record number of participants, including seven Heads of State or Government from the Arab world; 26 government ministers; and over 500 leaders, delegates and participants representing the public and private sectors, as well as international and regional organizations, along with civil society.
Together, the participants in Doha seized on over 47 billion US dollars in market opportunities in ICT projects to meet the needs of the region, and in particular new broadband networks and new applications and services in Arabic.
In the space of just a few days we showed the world that the Arab region is a place that continues to be full of optimism, hope, vitality, youth and entrepreneurship – and nowhere is this more visible than here in Dubai.
And this demonstrates the true power of partnership – when you bring all the stakeholders together, with common aims and shared ambitions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another great example of the importance of getting investment incentives right was demonstrated just three weeks ago, in Dublin, at the ninth meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.
The Broadband Commission was set up by ITU and our sister agency UNESCO back in 2010, to help world leaders see the ways that broadband can accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs.
One of the main focus areas within the Commission has been a series of Working Groups, with the most recent one – on Finance and Investment – being created in New York last September.
In Dublin, we held a really stimulating meeting of this working group, and I was very impressed with the range of innovative and practical suggestions for financing and investment.
Several speakers reminded us that just twenty years ago, investments in telecom networks were the concern of governments alone – but that the changing nature of the sector – and in particular liberalization, privatization and competition – has increasingly shifted the responsibility towards industry.
And indeed over the past two decades we have seen ICT networks become highly commercial enterprises.
There was general agreement that in the 21st century the public and private sectors will have to continue working hand-in-hand together.
This is partly due to the sheer scale of the subject – broadband needs to become ubiquitous and affordable to all – and partly because today’s networks are already being used for so much more than merely commercial ends: they are also being used as platforms to deliver fundamental services such as education and healthcare.
The Working Group addressed questions such as:
- What are – and what should be – the core investment priorities, and how should they be financed?
- How can we match the long-term needs of network planning with the short-term horizons of most investments?
- Who should pay? What incentives can be created to encourage the industry to shoulder the burden of investing billions of dollars a year?
The Broadband Commission brings together – like ITU itself – a rare mixture of expertise from the public and private sectors, with the heads of some very well-known industry players, as well as government ministers and the heads of UN agencies.
It was therefore fascinating to hear the Commission get to grips with the real issues – which include taxation and tariffs, universal service obligations, and harmonizing policies to attract investment.
Several times we heard – from both the private and public sectors – that sound and effective regulatory frameworks were key to encouraging potential investors and investments – and clearly further regulatory harmonization in this particular region will facilitate integration and the creation of common markets.
Investment is the oil that ensures the economic engine keeps running smoothly – and as an optimist, I have tremendous faith that the public and private sectors will continue work together to invest in, and to roll-out, ICT infrastructure; in this region and across the world.
There is almost unlimited opportunity in this exciting field – and I believe that the lessons we learn in my sector are quite readily applicable in other sectors too.
With the power of partnerships, governments and industry can help to deliver the infrastructure and the necessary services that people need – and that together we can start off a virtuous circle in investment, uptake, return on investment, and further investment.
And this will be rewarding for all stakeholders.
Thank you for your attention.