Telecommunication services trade rules mapped out for Uzbekistan’s negotiators
A technical training workshop was held to familiarize Uzbekistan’s negotiators in the country’s WTO accession bid with aspects of telecommunication services commitments under the GATS.
With annual turnover of $1.6 trillion, telecommunication services is a vast, encompassing industry, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Two-thirds of these revenues derive from mobile services, which means telecom services form the backbone of the digital economy and help facilitate e-commerce of goods and services.
The industry grew even stronger over the past two years as COVID 19-related lockdowns saw the demand for goods and services shifting online, with mobile services developing rapidly to meet the digital expansion.
Apart from mobile services, telecommunication services also include data transmission, voice telephony and circuit capacity (known as ‘basic’ telecommunications). A range of data retrieval and processing services, online information, and messaging services comprise the value-added portion of the industry.
Under WTO rules, the trade of telecommunications services is regulated by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), while a purpose-designed Annex in the GATS is dedicated to telecommunications. The rules of the Annex apply to all WTO Members.
The Annex makes provision for reasonable and non-discriminatory access to, and the use of, public telecommunications in any given market by suppliers of all basic and value-added telecommunications (excluding audiovisual) services.
Another leg of the rules is encapsulated by the ‘Reference Paper’, which is a set of a regulatory principles that guide telecommunications reforms, and only binds WTO Members that have selected to do so.
The fundamental trade principles – non-discrimination, transparency, competitive safeguards and reasonable regulation – are spelled out in a range of provisions in the GATS, the Annex and the Reference Paper.
At present, 123 WTO Members have made market access and national treatment commitments on trade in telecommunication services under the GATS, while 105 members are bound by the regulatory principles in the Reference Paper, according to the WTO.
Training trade negotiators in Uzbekistan
The complexities of the trade aspects of telecommunication services was the focus of the second in a series of technical workshops in services trade, organized for Uzbekistan’s trade negotiators and relevant government specialists.
The training, which took place online on 16 February 2022, was organized by the International Trade Centre (ITC) as part of its support extended to Uzbekistan in its WTO accession bid under the European Union (EU) project: ‘Facilitating the process of Uzbekistan's accession to the WTO’.
The workshop unpacked the unique features of telecoms in a trade context – notably how various services are defined and categorized in terms of the four modes of supply under the GATS. It also covered domestic regulation and the phase-in of liberalization, while the second half of the training focused on the intricacies of the Chairman’s Note on the scheduling of basic telecoms services.
The training sought to equip Uzbekistan’s officials with an understanding of the expected results of the reforms in the telecommunications sector and the actual outcomes, and how governments have leveraged telecoms commitments, to inform Uzbekistan’s own approach to domestic regulatory reform and the country’s negotiating position in the WTO accession process.
The training was provided in response to a request from the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade (MIFT), which leads Uzbekistan’s negotiating team at the WTO.
A total of 17 experts attended the workshop, representing several relevant government departments, as well as the country’s biggest telecommunications operator, Uztelecom. Apart from MIFT, other attending government representatives came from the Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications (MITC), the Ministry for Economic Development and Poverty Reduction (MEDPR) and the State Inspectorate for Control in the Field of Informatization and Telecommunications.