World Trade Organisation in EI's focus

published 20 October 2005 updated 20 October 2005

EI will send a 3-person delegation to the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (13-18 December). Thulas Nxesi, Eva-Lis Preisz and Elie Jouen will continue the lobbying undertaken by EI to protect the education sector from the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

In April 2004, EI held meetings with the GATS negotiators of a number of key countries. The profile of countries participating differed significantly in their commitments regarding GATS in the education sector and the level of liberalisation of their education systems. A first group has not yet tabled education commitments under GATS: Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, India, South Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia. Another group has established commitments in several sub-sectors: European Union (primary, secondary, higher and adult education, only for privately funded services); USA (higher education, adult, other); Thailand (primary, secondary, adult); Mexico (primary, secondary, higher and further education) and Rwanda (adult). Only relevant delegations were questioned about their approach, strategy, and the principles which apply to negotiations in the education sector. In some cases, delegations did not respond since they were not authorised to (Indonesia) or due to the high degree of specialisation of their delegation (USA). Conclusions regarding education services The interviews conducted by EI led to a series of conclusions regarding the state of negotiations in the education sector in the present round. Developing countries often do not have interests in trade in the education sector. Developed members, like the EU, do have some active interests in distance learning (mode 1), recruiting teachers and researchers (mode 4) or establishing an offshore campus. Most of the developing countries were not considering offers in education services. Some adopt this position following ideological principles (public services cannot be liberalised; we fear that privatisation is being promoted) or based on technical issues (we are not ready to liberalise education; we do not have enough regulating capacity in the sector). Least Developed Countries liberalise their education sector - or consider doing so - to attract investment and expertise to create a higher education system of better quality, to establish partnerships with foreign universities and to introduce competition in the sector. Some delegations were not aware of the impact that opening education services to trade could have on their education systems, like loss of planning capacity; providers of lower quality; replacement of the domestic education system by an education market (Mexico). Others were aware of the risks but minimise them (Thailand). WTO Conference in Hong Kong EI affiliates going to the WTO Ministerial Conference are invited to attend the Global Unions' preparatory meeting on December 11, as well as a public event on December 12*. On December 14, EI and PSI will organise a workshop on GATS in Public Services. *Check with www.ei-ie.org or www.icftu.org closer to the date for details