Education and Trade

published 8 March 2017 updated 19 May 2017


Education International insists that education is a human right and a public good, and it is the responsibility of all governments to provide all women and men, boys and girls, free high-quality public education.Since the negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) , EI has expressed concerns that proposals for a significant increase in the scope of trade liberalisation might see education services covered by commercial trade agreements. EI lobbied actively to have education  excluded from the scope of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The GATS is a multilateral agreement that defines restrictions on a broad range of government measures that affect  trade in services. There are 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 likewise be available for free to all. More and more 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 TRIPS-treaty.

However, in recent years a growing number of bilateral, plurilateral and regional trade and investment agreements have been initiated outside the scope of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Like in the case of the GATS, such agreements may expose the education sector to privatization and commercialization pressures. Formally, such agreements are about trade and investment that is lowering tariff rates and quotas, 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 pose potentially serious risks for education policy, for public schools and other educational institutions, as well as for teachers, students and their communities.


Education International and its member organisations oppose the privatization and commercialisation of education. We believe that education is a human right, a public service and not a commodity. The commercialization of education services carries risks of inequity, discrimination and a deepening of the digital divide.

GATS is a trade agreement, a multilateral investment agreement and a labour mobility agreement with far-reaching effects and restrictions on the decision-making capacities of national governments. At its heart, 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 their public services or deregulated them to cement in these liberalisations by making relevant education services commitments under the GATS. In new bilateral, plurilateral and regional trade and investment agreement, 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), the far-reaching effects and restrictions on the decision-making capacities of national governments are being extended further. In particular, new rules and disciplines are being included, such as regulatory cooperation and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, with potential far-reaching consequences for education and other public services. Education, health care and other public services should be excluded from all bilateral, plurilateral 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 material 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 educational, research and library uses in their national copyright laws.


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

EI regularly updates its member organisations on the developments with ongoing major bilateral, plurilateral and regional trade and investment agreements. through several methods:

  • Resolutions which are 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 organisations having  similar interest in removing education and other public services from trade and investment provisions and takes the lead to lobby national trade negotiators and representatives of the World Trade Organisation and beyond to raise awareness about the risk posed to education by trade and investment agreements.