The World Trade Organisation (WTO) may delay implementation of its agreement to liberalise telecommunications from the scheduled start date of 1 January, 1998, European Commission sources said this week.
About 15 countries failed to ratify the agreement by the deadline of the end of November - most significantly Argentina and Chile - and the 50 countries that have signed up must decide whether to start in January or delay for two months, the source said.
"When we extended the talks for nine months (to 15 February) we did not extend the period for ratification. In the first three weeks of December we have to decide if we start on 1 January 1998 and other countries join progressively or if we delay for two months," the source went on.
A delay would prevent any complaints being filed by the EU over issues such as charges for satellite frequency relocation, or on US Federal Communication Commission rules on licensing of foreign operators.
WTO members will assess the situation for the first time this week.
The absence of the two south American giants is seen as a major sticking point. "If we are just talking about El Salvador or Nicaragua then no-one would make a big deal," the source said.
A WTO source said those not to have ratified also include Bolivia, Poland and EU countries Belgium and Spain.
The WTO is likely to take a formal decision on when the telecomms deal comes into force when senior officials meet in Geneva on 12 December, he said.
The Commission source said that, while the latest FCC rules on licensing of foreign operators include positive changes, "there are still enormous parts we don't like", including a public interest test on incoming operators.
However, the EU will not move until it has clear evidence of discrimination from EU operators in the US and urges them to start applying for licences, the sources said.
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