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10th Anniversary of the Fourth Protocol to the GATS, WTO
Geneva, Switzerland
20 February 2008

Remarks by ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I would like to thank Mr. Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization for inviting me here today to join you in celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Fourth Protocol to the GATS and I am pleased to see Mrs. Lakshmi Puri, Acting Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, here with me for the Opening Session.

 

Ten years doesn’t seem that long, but in the world of telecommunications the last 10 years have been exceptional. In 1998 the international telecom environment shifted from a framework based on bilateral relations to one of a multilateral nature, and from closed to open markets.

 

The Agreement that heralded that shift did not come easily. Some countries, not only developing countries, but developed too, feared that by opening up their markets to competition and foreign investment they would lose control of a strategic industry. Yet, in the end most of these countries actually exceeded their liberalization commitments. The telecom sector evolved into the ICT sector and became an ever expanding sphere.

 

The benefits have been seen not only in the developed world, but even more so in developing countries where we witnessed double digit, and even triple digit growth in both subscriber numbers and revenues. A recent article in the Financial Times talks of how “.. the move over the last decade to provide billions of people in developing countries with mobiles is creating a new world order in telecoms”. We now see developing country operators investing in other developing countries. Africa has given birth to a series of pan-African mobile operators like Orascom and MTN. Countries around the globe have moved from being reluctant partners in the Basic Telecommunication Agreement (BTA) to embracing its principles and even going beyond its confines.

 

The BTA was not only a watershed event for the telecom sector, but a significant marker in the history of the ITU, bringing with it a strengthened cooperation between ITU and WTO. In March 1998 the ITU held the World Telecom Policy Forum, where the WTO’s Reference Paper was incorporated into Opinion A and the ITU Secretary-General was called upon to identify areas of common interest for cooperation with WTO. At the 2002 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, member states approved a Cooperation Agreement with WTO.

 

Of course the liberalization of the telecommunication markets changed the nature of ITU’s work. The BTA prompted the move to develop effective regulatory frameworks and ITU followed by providing platforms for regulators to further develop those frameworks. In 2000, four years after the introduction of the BTA, ITU pioneered a Global Symposium for Regulators, which is now an annual event. The world’s regulators come together at the highest level, to exchange best practices and the discussions frequently mirror the broad regulatory principles of the WTO Reference Paper. In fact the next global gathering of regulators takes place in Thailand from 11-13 March 2008.

 

Our work on market and technological trends continues and we are organizing a World Telecom Policy Forum in 2009 to review the International Telecommunication Regulations, taking into account Convergence, Next-Generation Networks, and Emerging regulatory and policy issues.

 

In 1998 the goal of trying to connect all of the world’s people seemed impossible. But look at how much has happened since then: the mobile boom, the Internet and now an era of Fibre to the Home, IPTV, mobile broadcasting, Wi-Fi, Wimax and so much more. Of course, these changes are due to technological innovation, but technology on its own is not enough. The environment that enabled the implementation of these new technologies was created through regulatory reform.

 

With technologies evolving so fast, what will the next 10 years bring? We will be communicating in ways that are yet to be imagined. Perhaps through a chip implanted under the skin? Or perhaps, as nanotechnology evolves, just from one brain to another, without the need for anything at all?

 

We have seven years left until 2015 to meet the Millennium Development Goals. ITU and WTO share these goals and each have their role to play. While ITU is committed to meeting the targets on ICT access agreed by the World Summit on the Information Society, WTO seeks a successful outcome to the Doha Development Round. At ITU we also think of Doha when we think of development, because our last World Telecommunication Development Conference took place there and we are now implementing the Doha plan of action.

 

Today as we look back over the last 10 years, we can also look at the next seven years and the challenge of ensuring that the benefits of the information society are shared by all.

 

I look forward to our continued cooperation with WTO.

 

Thank you

 

 

 

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