Leaders and legislators often wonder how to keep up with the fast-moving world of ICT. But we know at the same time that there is significant public interest in play, so we are keen to have a role. With that thought in mind, I’m pleased that the European Union and the United States have found a way to make a constructive difference to ICT-related trade – through a series of principles that we will each apply to our respective trade negotiations with third countries.
The principles are technologically neutral, but economically powerful. They range from commitments to transparency and guaranteeing cross-border flows of information, to a commitment to overhaul ownership requirements excluding full foreign participation in ICT services (see list at end of blog post).
By joining the forces of the world’s two largest economies, the EU and US, we are shifting the terms of global debate on ICT regulation. We are saying that the level playing field must be a core principle in ICT regulation.
The benefits of EU innovation shouldn’t just be for European citizens, and our businesses deserve a chance to compete fairly. There is much to tackle. Whether it’s national standards, poor IPR enforcement or cumbersome regulations, trade is held back with countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and Argentina.
In particular, while China is the EU’s second largest trading partner our trade remains well below potential. Our relationship is growing, but slower than it could be and in a lop-sided way. For example, just 12 out of 22,000 Value-Added Services licences have so far been awarded to non-Chinese companies. A simplified authorisation scheme, as promoted in our newly agreed principles, would help to rebalance the situation.
A further problem is that European researchers are effectively locked out of China-funded programmes. China has had generous access to EU research programmes for more than a decade, with Chinese involvement in projects receiving more than €100 million, including 29 projects in the EU’s current research framework programme alone. In return the EU has been allowed to participate in just one Chinese project.
The problems are not exclusive to China. To take another example, Indian consumers pay higher prices and miss out on some great services because European companies don’t have fair access to buying 3G licenses (two have recently been reserved for Indian-owned operators.)
More generally, foreign equity caps are persistently operating as barriers to trade in services in a majority of ASEAN countries. And from Brazil to India, European and other satellite providers are allowed to deliver services only once the capacity of national satellite providers is exhausted. The principles call for the end of such discrimination.
These principles will not affect the rights of the EU or US have separate approaches to intellectual property, privacy and personal data and cultural diversity. Nor will they replace the possibility of WTO action. Rather, the principles are designed to increase trade and help us deliver and regulate ICT in a way that matches the always-on, always-connected digital era. Yes, the EU wants to support countries to embrace the digital future – but they we expect them to integrate these important principles into our trading relationship.
The world needs a powerful signal that ICT is at the heart of both economic and social progress. The EU is committed to playing a full role in this progress.
Summary of The Ten Principles
- Transparency of rules affecting trade in ICT and ICT services
- Open networks for consumers to access and distribute information, applications and services of their choice
- Cross-border flows of information
- No requirement to use local infrastructure for ICT services
- Governments should allow full foreign participation in their ICT services sector, through establishment or other means
- Efficient and maximised use of radio spectrum
- Independence of regulatory authorities overseeing ICT services
- Simple authorisation of competitive telecommunications services
- ICT service suppliers must have the right to interconnect with other service providers for access to publicly available telecommunications networks and services. Public telecom services suppliers should be able to negotiate and obtain interconnection with major suppliers at cost-oriented, non-discriminatory and transparent rates.
- International cooperation with a view to increasing the level of digital literacy in third countries and reducing the ‘digital divide’.