Trade officials expressed differing views on the draft text on domestic regulation released in February. The negotiations are focused on developing new GATS restrictions that would require that government measures adopted with respect to qualification requirements and procedures, licensing requirements and procedures, and technical standards be relevant, objective and "no more trade burdensome than necessary".
These proposals have been greeted with scepticism by many members. Brazil and Argentina have been critical of the scope of the proposed restrictions, arguing that they go too far and could limit the ability of governments to adapt or maintain regulations to meet local needs. Others, such as Pakistan and India, feel the restrictions need to be tighter in order to prevent developed countries from using regulations as "disguised restrictions on trade".
During their meetings with delegations in Geneva, representatives of EI stressed that the proposed domestic regulation restrictions could directly affect the education sector. Qualification requirements are often set by educational institutions. Licensing requirements and procedures refer to not just professional licensing, but also the licensing of schools and other facilities. Technical standards are defined as "measures that lay down the characteristics of a service or the manner in which it is supplied," and would therefore capture quality assurance requirements in education.
"Education services are highly regulated in most countries in order to promote quality, protect students, and to ensure that domestic social, economic and cultural priorities are met," notes Jouen. "The proposed domestic regulation restrictions would unduly interfere with the right of governments to enact regulations governing the provision of education."
Jouen points out that the draft text sates that qualification requirements and procedures must be "relevant to the services to which they apply". This "relevance" test might exclude educational requirements that are seen to be unnecessary for the provision of a service. For example, many vocational education institutions require students to take general education courses that, arguably, may not be directly relevant to the occupation they are pursing. It is common in many countries for professional schools to require students have more than just a technical knowledge of the skills needed to perform a job.
"This could easily open the door to private career colleges who often claim they can train people with the skills they need in a shorter time, but without a general education that is vital to the development of individuals," adds Jouen.
Monique Fouilhoux, senior coordinator of EI’s employment and education unit, says that it was clear from the discussions with Geneva-based negotiators, that there have been few consultations with national education departments and regulators over the proposed new GATS rules.
"It is important that EI affiliates pursue these issues and concerns with their national governments," Fouilhoux stressed. "Until there is more pressure coming from national capitals, there is a real danger that domestic regulation rules will be adopted that will potentially have an impact on education at all levels."