WTO negotiations on access to the basic telecommunications market resulted in 34 offers (for 48 governments) that were originally scheduled to end in April 1996. In mid-November 1996, the first tangible signs of further progress in the negotiations were achieved when the European Union, the United States and the Slovak Republic were the first to formally present the changes to the package`s offers in April. The momentum began to develop in January 1997, when seven other governments submitted revised proposals and six governments added new offers to the overall results. In February, 17 new bids were submitted and 22 other governments submitted their April 1996 bids for the first time. The total number of new offers submitted has thus increased to 23 and the total number of revisions (for 46 governments) of the 34 offers submitted in April to 32. The annex has seven sections, but its main obligations are those relating to the access and use of « telecommunications networks and public services » (mainly basic public telecommunications). It requires each member to ensure that access to basic telecommunications and public services is granted to all providers who wish to benefit from planned obligations on a reasonable and non-discriminatory basis. Among the trade rules applicable to telecommunications services are the framework articles of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which contain the principles governing the trade of all services. In addition, the GATS also contains an annex on telecommunications. This provides guarantees as to the appropriate access and use of public telecommunications in a market given by the providers of all services benefiting from the commitments envisaged by the member concerned. > explanation of the annex In the GATS calendars already in force, 67 governments have made commitments on telecommunications services (56 timetables since EU Member States presented a single timetable).
Most countries that represent important markets for telecommunications services have made commitments. However, most of the timetables (44 of which concern 55 governments) were mainly value-added or extended telecommunications services, with basic telecommunications being the subject of expanded negotiations. Commitments for telecommunications services were made for the first time during the Uruguay Round (1986-1994), mainly in the area of value-added services. In the negotiations that followed the Uruguay Round (1994-1997), WTO members negotiated basic telecommunications services. Since then, new members have been promised unilaterally after WTO membership or at any time. Telecommunications, like other services, are involved in the information negotiations that began in January 2000. In the current Doha round of negotiations, the additional opening of markets and the commitment of recent reforms (i.e. the obligation not to increase the tariff rate beyond an agreed level) in the field of telecommunications are the objective of many negotiating requests made by WTO members to their trading partners.
In July 2008, 39 governments submitted bids to improve their existing commitments or to engage for the first time in the telecommunications sector. The broadest telecommunications sector covers both services and equipment (i.e. goods). From this point of view, many of the WTO-controlled agreements are relevant. On the equipment side, GATT`s tariff concession plans and the development of the technical barriers to trade (standards) agreement are important.