Teacher unionists are deeply involved in the make or break talks being held this week in Geneva, Switzerland, in what many see as the last attempt to rescue the troubled Doha Round of international trade negotiations.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has set Friday 29 April as the deadline for a deal on reducing tariffs and subsidies for industrial and agricultural goods, and liberalising the trade in services, including education services.
EI Deputy General Secretary Monique Fouilhoux highlighted that “Education International has insisted from the beginning of the Doha Round in 2001 that education is a public good, not a private commodity to be bought, sold and traded. Education must be absolutely excluded from commercial trade agreements.”
Last week, the chairs of the various WTO negotiating groups released an update on the progress of talks to date.
The chair of the services negotiations, Mexican Ambassador Fernando de Mateo, noted that little progress has been made in expanding the coverage of education in the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Of the 21 countries asked to liberalise their education sector, only five have indicated a willingness to meet the request.
De Mateo concluded that “despite some progress, it was felt that significant gaps remained.”
Fouilhoux said the reluctance of countries to make commitments on education services in the GATS negotiations reflects the “strong and effective lobbying effort of EI and its affiliates.”
She also noted that the WTO talks on developing new restrictions on domestic regulation, including regulations that affect the education sector at all levels, are similarly deadlocked.
She added that “the impasse on the talks on services and domestic regulation should force countries to reassess the wisdom of expanding trade rules into areas like education where there is little clarity about the impact but much at risk.”