Education International
Education International

Keep education and public services out of WTO agreements

published 30 November 2009 updated 30 November 2009

At the World Trade Organization’s 7th Ministerial Conference in Geneva, EI is urging trade ministers to keep education and other public services off the table.

The Ministerial Meeting, billed as a “taking stock” exercise and not a negotiating meeting, takes place against the backdrop of the global financial and economic crisis.

In the opening session, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy insisted that “for trade to work it needs to be rooted on a bedrock of domestic policies.”

However, several unions and NGOs are questioning whether WTO rules will restrict domestic policy space, particularly with respect to the regulation of public services, including education. These concerns were raised when prior to the beginning of the Ministerial Meeting, EI, together with affiliates from Canada, Australia and Taiwan, attended the TILS (Trade Investment Labour Standards) Meeting organized by the ITUC, together with a number of labour unions to agree upon a strategy for the Ministerial Meeting.

Labour unions agreed to press WTO Members to enhance the central role of employment and labour standards in relation to trade; to encourage the WTO to use the current impasse in the talks to assess the impact of trade liberalization in the context of the global recession; and, in relation to GATS, call for a moratorium on financial services liberalization and to not negotiate new rules on domestic regulation that would restrict domestic policy space.

The TILS meeting was followed by an ITUC public conference where ministers from Brazil, Argentina and South Africa took the floor together with the ILO Executive Director Kari Tapiola, the European Commission Head of Delegation in Geneva Eckart Guth, and WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.

Amongst the Ministers, there was a consensus of the need for WTO to take stock of its activities and to deliver on its development agenda.

At a briefing session today for NGOs, Lamy argued that the current economic crisis demanded increased trade liberalization, and when questioned by several speakers, insisted that trade did not cause the current economic crisis --- rather “it is a victim of the crisis.”

EI’s delegation has disseminated a statement to the Ministerial Conference and will be lobbying delegations to ensure that public services and education are carved out of WTO agreements. EI is also calling for the possibility for countries to withdraw commitments already in education without having to pay any compensation.