Dr Ryoji Chubachi,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me a great pleasure this morning to welcome you all to the WTO to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Information Technology Agreement.
The story of today's celebration started in 1996, when a group of WTO members overcame numerous political difficulties and technical obstacles, and finally came together to eliminate tariffs and expand trade in IT products.
They did this in a sector which is a driver of productivity, innovation, development and economic growth.
They did this in a pragmatic manner, by giving participants flexibilities to reach the end goal of eliminating tariffs.
They did this through the joining of hands of developed and developing countries.
Fifteen years later, ITA participants account for over 96 per cent of world trade in IT products. World exports of IT products have almost tripled, reaching an overall value of US$ 1.4 trillion in 2010. Through the elimination of tariffs, the ITA has substantially improved the affordable access to technology — in particular, for developing countries. In fact, developing ITA participants now account for approximately 65 per cent of world IT exports and 50 per cent of world IT imports. These figures were only around 30 per cent in 1996.
Although developed countries still account for a large share of the investment and consumption of IT products, in recent years investment in this sector has increased considerably in some emerging economies — such as China, India and ASEAN countries. These countries have now turned into indispensable producers and consumers in global value chains of IT products.
All these figures are a useful reminder that trade opening can be truly win-win.
This is just part of the success story. Developing countries have also used IT products and technologies as effective means to establish their competitiveness and market position in other areas. For example, access to affordable IT equipment has been instrumental in enabling India to become a powerhouse in consulting services and software development.
The ITA has also “oiled” these economies through increasing the productivity of traditional industries, creating brand new business sectors and generating new jobs. Affordable access to information technology products has also contributed to trade facilitation and has helped countries better integrate into global production chains.
In recent years, the world has also been witnessing a shift in low-income and least-developed countries — a shift from passive consumption of ICT towards active use and participation in the production of ICT goods and services. A change which has increased the potential of ICT in promoting development and reducing poverty.
It is fair to say that the rapid evolution in ICT has made a great difference in all aspects of our lives today. The creation of wireless technology and access to cheap mobile phones has increased overall economic efficiency and — far more importantly — empowered millions of people around the world.
For instance, in southern India, mobile phones have helped fishermen address information asymmetries with traders and consumers. Better market coordination has resulted in increased profits for the fishermen, lower fish prices for poor consumers, as well as a reduction in wastage of fish.
Even countries that have not joined the ITA have benefited indirectly from the trade opportunities generated by the large economies of scale of global production networks, bringing more affordable high-quality products and leading to the establishment of new IT-enabled industries and services.
Farmers selling grain in Niger, dairy producers in Bhutan, onion traders in Ghana and the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange are only a few examples of the people who have prospered through such a transformation. Mobile micro insurance to farmers in Kenya and mobile money transfer services run by Safaricom are just two examples of new IT-enabled services in Africa worth mentioning too.
Last year, the global number of mobile phone subscriptions reached close to 6 billion, and average subscription penetration was 80 per cent in the developing world. Even in some least-developed countries, the growth rate has been truly remarkable. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea have seen subscription rates surge from 5 per cent to over 55 per cent.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the last decade, trade growth in the IT sector has outpaced that of other sectors.
However, it is also true that bound and applied tariffs on some IT products remain relatively high in a number of medium-sized economies outside the Agreement. With advances in technological development, many ICT products are not yet covered by the existing ITA.
The success stories of the ITA participants suggest that there is value in joining this agreement. That participation can result in benefits through opening up this dynamic sector and better integrating into global value chains.
This week's Symposium offers a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to review trade opening and the evolution of global trade in ICT products since 1996.
It is my hope that through this outreach event, government representatives, policymakers, and trade negotiators can have an exchange of views and dialogue with the private sector, industry associations and academics on the latest developments in the ICT sector. Not only in terms of new technologies, technical innovation and global supply chains, but also of their socio-economic benefits.
Looking ahead, I believe this is a good occasion for us to explore the effective ways of further expanding trade in ICT products, as a means to promote growth and create jobs. Fifteen years ago a group of visionaries conquered what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles and negotiated one of the most successful sectoral trade agreements ever. Today, their successors have the responsibility to further expand that legacy.
On this occasion, I have the pleasure to announce the release of a new WTO publication: “15 Years of the Information Technology Agreement: Trade, Innovation and Global Production Networks”.
I hope this publication will shed light on the bigger picture and inspire those who wish to improve the ITA and pursue further trade opening to the benefit of all in this sector as well as in other sectors. Let me take this opportunity to thank those WTO staff who have contributed to this publication.
Finally, let me wish you all the best in your deliberations and a successful Symposium.
Thank you for your attention.