Education International
Education International

Stakes are high for education in trade agreements

published 19 March 2015 updated 23 March 2015

With the fate of education currently being negotiated in global free-trade talks, Martin Rømer, Director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education, spoke with RadioLabour about the possible consequences.

“Public education is definitely part of what is being negotiated for the moment,” said Rømer, Director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), Education International (EI)’s European Region. “However, there is a problem of course of transparency.”

The ETUCE director shared his comments with Marc Belanger for the RadioLabour programme “ Global trade deal aims at privatising education” on 10 March.

Governments are currently negotiating and signing various new trade deals, namely the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). The common link between all of them is a lack of transparency.

Rømer singled out TiSA, which has seen 11 rounds of negotiations, but discussions have remained behind closed doors and nobody has really seen anything.

Rømer told Belanger that on the day of the interview that the European Commission went public with the offer it made in TiSA. “From what we can see, education will be included at least in the same way as it is done in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT),” said Rømer.

Preventing privatisation

Although it will be possible to make reservations for public education and include private education, Rømer says it is clear that negotiators are trying to harmonise what is being discussed in both the TTIP and in TiSA.

As they currently stand, the trade agreements do not provide a clear definition of what is considered public and what is considered private education, an issue he attributes to the imprecise language being used in the negotiations.

When Belanger asked how education quality can be affected by trade agreements, Rømer detailed how some governments which, due to financial restraints following the economic crisis, might be tempted to accept an offer from private corporations to take over education. And when private companies take over public education systems, he said “you then do not have any guarantee about the quality.”

For the ETUCE Director, the answer to preventing private takeovers comes down to one thing: education should be exempt from the trade negotiations.

As the trade talks continue, both EI and the ETUCE are continuing to lobby governments and spread awareness about the impact trade deals have on public education.

The full radio interview is available here