Journal article

Telecommunications services in the Trans-Pacific Partnership: will the mobile roaming provisions benefit tourists and traders?

Free trade International trade Mobile phones Australia New Zealand

The purported solution to international mobile roaming charges agreed by negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (‘TPP’) has been hailed as one of the key achievements of the telecommunications chapter, and the treaty more broadly, especially within Australia. Apparent market failure in respect of wholesale roaming rates has posed a challenge that Australia and New Zealand, as well as the European Union and other countries, have been grappling with for several years. The TPP solution is said to hold the key to substantial benefits for both individual travellers and businesses in TPP countries through the lowering of roaming rates. Yet a close examination of the detailed roaming provisions in the TPP raises a number of questions about their interpretation, implementation and broader significance. Technological and commercial developments may mean that roaming charges fall and alternatives to roaming become more pervasive and more effective, rendering the TPP provisions superfluous. The complexity of the provisions and ambiguities in their drafting will in any case make it difficult for them to be applied in a consistent way across TPP countries. While the TPP may deliver some improvements to transparency and cooperation, the substantive mechanisms for reciprocal lowering of roaming rates in the agreed treaty text may offer little reason to get excited. Moreover, the allowance for preferential treatment of particular TPP countries or their suppliers might not withstand a legal challenge in the context of a World Trade Organization dispute.

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