The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) applauds the recent renewed focus on removal of barriers to trade in services at the WTO and the commitments made at the December 2011 Ministerial to accelerate work on electronic commerce. CCIA is particularly encouraged to see the exploration by WTO Members of new approaches for reaching an agreement.

If the world trade system and the WTO want to remain relevant in the digital age, they must seize this initiative.  We are encouraged that many WTO members have seen fit to remedy the sad fact that the biggest trade enabler to the global economy – the Internet – is one of the least liberalized.  Our inherently global industry badly needs an agreement.

Given that the major WTO agreement governing the worldwide trade in services, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), could not envision the Internet or what it was to become, these talks are well overdue.  According to one estimate, the barriers to the cross border provision of computer and information services are the equivalent of a tariff of nearly 30 percent on our industry.

Given the vital and rapidly growing importance of Internet commerce to people and enterprises around the world, CCIA urges trade negotiators not to allow a commitment to any particular modality of agreement stand in the way of actually reaching an agreement on services liberalization.

“Internet services” are what create economic and productivity multipliers for computers, smart phones and tablets.  In fact, they are the biggest single selling point of modern electronic devices.  Can you imagine a smartphone or a computer today that did not have access to Internet search, social media and business collaboration tools?

Increasingly, businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, rely upon Internet services to connect with customers and sell their products.  However, these inherently global services enjoy few of the protections against trade restrictive measures that have been achieved for the hardware they run on.  Negotiators must seek to further liberalize trade in all components of the global IT ecosystem, including hardware, software and services.

Although parties should be as expansive and ambitious as possible in reaching a twenty-first century services agreement, at the end of the day it is paramount that an agreement is reached. As the world’s two largest markets for services, a particular onus rests on the European Union and the United States to demonstrate leadership and collaborate on a pragmatic proposal for ICT Services liberalization.

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