Liberalisation of telecommunications is a critical component of financial inclusion, the total value of mobile money transactions in Sub-Saharan Africa last year was worth $19.9bn, as individual transactions grew by 17.9 per cent to 1.2 billion year over year. All of this is enabled by a liberalised telecommunications sector.Speaking during the stakeholder sensitisation workshop on the implications of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) initiative for the Communications Industry held in Lagos, the Acting Director General of the Nigerian Office For Trade Negotiations (NOTN); Mr. Liman Liman said the Assembly of Heads of States of the African Union resolved that the liberalisation of trade in services in the AfCFTA shall be negotiated in two phases. Phase one shall involve liberalisation of what is referred to as priority sectors, telecommunications being one of them, he noted.
The two-day workshop with the theme: ‘Improving Nigerian Communications Industry Competitiveness for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Initiative is being organized by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in collaboration with the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiation (NOTN), which is a key element of the Governments’ institutional framework for driving Nigeria’s trade policy initiatives
The acting director general NOTN disclosed that the negotiations on the liberalisation of telecommunications have not yet begun. It is however expected that the framework of the telecommunications sector in the AfCFTA will include: regulatory disciplines, data transmission, cellular telephone, fixed telephone, mobile satellite, value added data services and other services to be determined by the negotiating parties, he added.
Mr Liman said the AfCFTA does not intended to harmonise telecommunications regulation, nor is the intention to usurp the function of the national regulator, rather, it is to ensure that amongst others, there is a minimum standard of treatment or regulatory principles which includes:
- competition to avoid abuse of dominance
- interconnection to guarantee fairness
- independence of operators
- universal service requirements
- transparency provisions
- technical standards
- licensing criteria and procedures
- qualification criteria and procedures
He cited that the telecommunications section of the AfCFTA will include what is referred to as a schedule of telecommunications services commitments, which sets out the scope and depth of market opening that is offered (market access), national treatment obligations and any additional commitments to be offered.
“Under the AfCFTA telecommunications regime, the following measures shall be prohibited:
- limits on the number of suppliers
- limits on the value of transactions or assets
- limits on the number of operations or the quantity of output
- limits on the number of persons that may be employed in a sector or by a supplier
- measures that restrict or require specific types of legal entity or joint venture
- limits on the participation of foreign capital
However, he pointed out that although the process of granting a licence to operate shall be determined at national level, the AfCFTA telecommunications regime will set minimum standards or criteria for granting of licences, this is important for the purpose of ensuring predictability and certainty of the market. Such criteria may include:
- financial capability and willingness to invest sufficient capital to provide a satisfactory public service;
- service proposed must be technically sound;
- proven managerial and technical expertise and a workable and defined corporate structure; and
- where interconnection with public telecommunication networks/services is required, equipment shall meet the technical specifications for interconnection.
“By 2025 mobile broadband will account for 87% of mobile connections, in Africa. The current figure for these services is 38%.
“Africa remains the region with the least developed telecommunications infrastructure in the world today, but with the fastest growing penetration of mobile telephony in the world, according to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA).
“E-commerce and digital trade are on the rise in Africa; e-commerce sales in the Sub-Saharan region reached $16.5 billion in 2017 and are expected to reach $29 billion by 2022. This trend is primarily driven by increasing purchasing power of the middle class, increasing internet and smartphone adoption, and the growth of digital payment solutions, he added.