Telecommunications services are a global market worth over US$ 1.5 trillion in revenue. Mobile services account for roughly 40 per cent of this, while mobile subscribers worldwide currently outnumber the use of fixed telephone lines by more than two to one. Over the past decade, the market has witnessed far-reaching changes, with the introduction of competition into a sector that was once principally a monopoly.
Commitments in telecommunications services were first made during the Uruguay Round (1986-94), mostly in value-added services. In post-Uruguay Round negotiations (1994-97), WTO members negotiated on basic telecommunications services. Since then, commitments have been made by new members, upon accession to the WTO, or unilaterally at any time.
Current commitments and exemptions:
A total of 108 WTO members have made commitments to facilitate trade in telecommunications services. This includes the establishment of new telecoms companies, foreign direct investment in existing companies and cross-border transmission of telecoms services. Out of this total, 99 members have committed to extend competition in basic telecommunications (e.g. fixed and mobile telephony, real-time data transmission, and the sale of leased-circuit capacity). In addition, 82 WTO members have committed to the regulatory principles spelled out in the “Reference Paper”, a blueprint for sector reform that largely reflects “best practice” in telecoms regulation.