Education and Trade

Education and Trade


Education International believes that education is a human right and a public good and that it is the responsibility of all governments to provide all people free high-quality public education.EI has expressed concern that proposals significantly increasing the scope of trade liberalization will see education services included in commercial trade agreements. EI lobbied actively to have education excluded from the scope of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a multilateral agreement that defines restrictions on a broad range of government measures that affect trade in services. Although it initially seemed to have sufficient protections for education, the activities of private actors in education who see it as a profitable sector menat that there are now compelling reasons to be concerned that the GATS poses serious threats to vital public interest regulations, including those governing education.

Knowledge and intellectual property, provided through education, should be available for free to all. Many countries find it increasingly difficult to obtain copyright clearance and pay royalties for materials needed by teachers and students. EI therefore expresses similar concerns over trade in intellectual property, regulated through the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) treaty.

In recent years, a growing number of bilateral and regional trade agreements have been initiated outside the scope of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Like in the case of GATS, such agreements may expose the education sector to privatization and commercialization pressures. In theory, these agreements are about increasing trade and investment through the lowering of tariffs and quotas. In reality, however, the main issues involve regulatory cooperation and the elimination of so-called “non-tariff” barriers to trade. As a result, these new trade and investment agreements potentially pose serious risks for education policy, for public schools and other educational institutions, as well as for teachers, students, and their communities. Issues include protecting public services, but also insuring that governments retain the right to regulate and that trade and investment agreements do not gain a higher status than national law.


Education International and its member organizations oppose the privatization and commercialization of education. We believe that education is a human right and a public service, not a commodity. The commercialization of education facilitated by its inclusion in trade agreements carries risks of inequity, discrimination, and a deepening of the digital divide.

GATS is a multilateral trade and labor mobility agreement with far-reaching effects and restrictions on the decision-making capacities of national governments. At its core, the GATS commits WTO members to a liberalization agenda, not just by eliminating barriers to trade and investment in services, but also by encouraging countries that have privatized, contracted out or deregulated their public serves to cement these liberalizations by making similar education services commitments under GATS. In new bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements, such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), restrictions on the decision-making capacities of national governments are being extended further. Health care and other public services should also be excluded from all bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements.EI believes that the TRIPS agreement primarily serves the interests of the holders of intellectual property rights. A more balanced approach to intellectual property rules is needed to ensure that legitimate use of copyrighted and patented materials not be constrained. In order to protect and promote access to teacher and learning materials, all countries must be allowed to maintain or adopt broad exemptions for education, research, and library uses in their national copyright laws.

EI, in cooperation with the rest of the trade union movement and a number of civil society organisations has opposed private procedures to resolve conflicts under trade and investment agreements; investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) as well as the investment court system (ICS) being proposed by the European Union. Both would have the effect of undermining national courts and regulators and could risk giving greater rights to foreign investors than to domestic investors.

The following resolutions have been passed by the EI World Congress with regards to education and trade: "Resolution on the Dangers of Privatization of Public Education” (1995), “Resolution on the Currency Crisis and Structural Adjustment in Asia” (1998), “Resolution on the Global Campaign to Defend and Enhance Public Education” (1998), “Resolution on the International Labor Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the Globalization of the Economy” (1998), “Resolution on the World Economy and Education” (1998), “Resolution on Educating in a global economy” (2001), “Resolution on Education and New Technology” (2001), “Resolution on Globalization and the Rights and Employment conditions of Teachers and Education Personnel” (2001), “Resolution on the International Labor Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the Globalization of the Economy” (2001), “Resolution on Brain Drain” (2004), “Resolution on Education – Public Service or Commodity?” (2004), “Resolution on defense and development of public education” (2007), “Resolution on United for Greater Social Justice” (2007), “Resolution on the Strengthening of International Trade Unionism within the Context of Globalization” (2011), “Resolution on Copyright and Education” (2011), and finally “Resolution on Stopping TTIP, TISA, CETA, TPP and other similar trade and investment agreements” (2015). For more information on these resolutions, click here.


EI monitors international trade and investment agreements and works with its member organizations to raise awareness about the dangers of trade in education. It pushes for political action that explicitly excludes education services from the scope of bilateral, plurilateral, and regional trade and investment agreements.

EI regularly updates its member organizations on the developments with ongoing agreements through several methods:

  • Resolutions adopted by EI’s World Congress

  • EI Briefing Notes on major Trade and Investment Agreements

  • EI Education and Trade updates on the recent developments

Externally, EI partners up with organizations having similar interest in removing education and other public services from trade and investment provisions. It participates in trade and investment activites with the ITUC, other GUFs, and the ETUC. It takes the lead to lobby national trade negotiators and representatives of the World Trade Organization and beyond to raise awareness about the risk posed to education by trade and investment agreements.

Share this page