SG Corner

CTO Secretary General participates in World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum 2021

The WTO Public Forum 2021 took place from the 28th September – 1st October 2021, under the theme Trade Beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience. Secretary General, Ms Bernadette Lewis was a panellist in the working session The WTO’s role in telecommunications – Reinforcing development, innovation and a resilient economy, that took place on the 1st October 2021.

The Public Forum is an annual event and provides a platform to review current developments in world trade and consider ways to enrich the multilateral trading system. The event attracts over 1,500 representatives from civil society, academia, business, the media, governments, parliamentarians, and inter-governmental organisations.[1] The Secretary General spoke on the importance of connectivity and ensuring access to ICTs and telecommunication services, referencing Article 19, paragraph 2, of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

’Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.This statement speaks to the right of every individual to communicate and in this regard, it is incumbent on the powers that be, the organisations and persons of influence in this area to ensure that the means for communication are available to all.”

The session illustrated how telecommunications services and ICT infrastructure underpin continuous economic growth. Digital technologies and data services sustained the global economy during the COVID crisis and gave focus to the importance of a data-driven global economy.  A cornerstone of modern telecommunications is grounded in the WTO Reference Paper on Basic Telecommunications (1996) that outlined definitions and principles on the regulatory framework for the basic telecommunications services. This working session, 25 years later,  took a fresh look at the WTO telecoms rules, what has been achieved, and whether it is time for reform given current technological and market developments.[2]

The Secretary General discussed how communications services and infrastructure play a significant role in socio-economic development. The need to find remedies to address the digital divide, to promote access to broadband and reduce the impact created by the pandemic. She also addressed how societal, technological, and market changes would necessitate changes to the WTO Reference Paper on Basic Telecommunications. 

Secretary General Ms Bernadette Lewis
Secretary General Ms Bernadette Lewis speaking at WTO Public Forum 2021

The working session was chaired by Mr Simon Manley, Ambassador, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the WTO session. Session panellists included representatives from BT, Wiggin LLP, and a Former Counsellor in the Trade in Services Division of the WTO with responsibility for e-commerce and telecommunications.

The session can be viewed here.

[1] WTO | Public Forum
[2] WTO | Services: Telecommunications – Negotiating Group on Basic Telecommunications 24 April 1996