While overall negotiations remain stalled, officials cited some progress in other aspects of the Doha Round, including controversial talks aimed at developing new legally-binding disciplines for domestic regulations that may affect trade.
EI has expressed serious concern about these proposed rules as they could have a significant impact on public services, including education. According to recent proposals, these new rules would require governments to ensure that licensing procedures, qualifications requirements, and technical standards are not “disguised barriers to trade” and are “objective” and “relevant”. In the education sector, however, many regulations concerning quality assurance and curriculum are subjective in nature and may not stand up to a strict test of “objectivity”. EI’s delegation met with the chair of the Working Party on Domestic Regulation, Ahmad Mukhtar of Pakistan, and expressed ongoing concerns about the proposals currently on the table. Mukhtar confirmed that the domestic regulation talks are well advanced, with more countries actively engaged in the negotiations. While noting that “resistance to the disciplines has significantly reduced,” he added that there are still major hurdles to overcome. “We need more discussions about how we define the key operational terms in the disciplines, such as pre-established, relevant and objective,” he said. “We also need more discussion about the scope of what is meant by technical standards. However, these are bridgeable gaps.” He also revealed that Switzerland had tabled a new proposal that would see a controversial “necessity test” put back into a draft text. Such a test would, as interpreted by WTO dispute panels, would require regulators to prove that measures they have taken were necessary and “there were no alternative measures” available that were less trade restrictive. Officials from South Africa and Ecuador indicated there was little appetite in the room for the Swiss proposal. In fact, South Africa was largely supportive of the latest text from the chair precisely because it removed any reference to a necessity test. Mukhtar indicated that he intends to prepare a draft text on domestic regulation by early April.