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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

Take education out of GATS, teachers urge

In a statement released December 13, 2005, delegations to the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, the global union representing more than 29 million teachers and education workers is calling on member countries to remove education services from the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

"Because there are so many unanswered questions about the impact of GATS on education, and because there is so much at stake, we believe all members must adopt a precautionary approach. They must neither make nor seek any commitments that constrain the rights of government to regulate education as they see fit, including research, audio-visual services, and libraries," stated Thulas Nxesi, president of Education International (EI).

The statement, adopted by participants to EI’s higher education and research meeting last week in Melbourne, Australia, also recommends that countries make no commitments on private education services.

"As the boundary between public and private education becomes increasingly blurred in many countries, the danger is that commitments taken in private education could easily expose the public system," explained Nxesi.

Education International is also concerned about proposals for compulsory benchmarking and plurilateral approaches to the services negotiations. According to Nxesi, such changes would put undue pressure on developing countries and coerce them into making more extensive commitments in sensitive areas like education and other public services.

In addition, Thulas Nxesi says teachers are deeply disturbed by the recent New Zealand-led establishment of a "friends of education exports" group that is specifically targeting education services.

"We believe strongly that, at its root, GATS is in conflict with educational values. The GATS is a commercial agreement designed to expand business opportunities for investors. Education, by contrast, is a human right that serves the public interest and must not be treated as a commodity subject to commercial trade rules," said Nxesi.

– Education International



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