Trade liberalization in telecom markets — not a mercantilist example, says Lamy

In a speech today in Geneva, the World Trade Organization’s director-general Pascal Lamy noted the significant achievements of WTO members in opening up telecommunications markets over the past ten years.

Lamy pointed out that in 1994, when WTO telecom negotiations began, only eight countries allowed any foreign operators to compete in this sector. Now, he noted, “over 100 WTO Members have commitments to open markets in some or all telecommunication services.”

Lamy also brought up an important point that trade negotiators often overlook: Instead of the usual mercantilist “exchanges of concessions,”— “I’ll give you this, if you give me that” — countries volunteered to open their telecom markets “out of economic self-interest,” he said.

And opening up telecom markets across borders, Lamy said, benefits both developed and developing countries by giving consumers and merchants access to critical communications, computer and information services that can help promote economic growth and development.

The opening of telecommunications markets that Lamy extols provides a good though not perfect example of how countries acting in their own self-interest can cut back on trade barriers that can stymie economic growth and development. If only that example could gain some traction to move the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round negotiations relating to other services and to the big stumbling block to any agreement — agriculture. Unfortunately, in ag negotiations, quid pro quo mercantilism is usually at the forefront.