Thursday, May 22, 2014

Academics Raise Alarm Over U.S. Trade Deal

Academics raise alarm over US trade agreement
22nd May 2014

Higher education must be excluded from any future trade partnership between the EU and the United States to avoid an influx of private universities, according to university groups.

Concerns have been raised as discussions are under way about a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, designed to reduce barriers to trading goods and services. Discussions on the TTIP began in July last year and are proceeding on the basis of a negative list approach, meaning that unless a subject is explicitly excluded, it could be up for negotiation. If higher education is tabled, the implications are that both sides could open their borders to free competition from elsewhere, a stark change for many EU countries in which universities are state-owned and protected.

Howard Davies, an adviser at the European University Association, says higher education is a public good that should remain outside the remit of such an agreement. It’s mainly a member state jurisdiction, and member states should continue to have the right to run their systems as they please, he says.

Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, is also pushing for education to be exempt. ‘Including it in an EU-US partnership would directly lead to an increase in privatisation, which we oppose’, says Guntars Catlaks, the unions senior coordinator for research. Negotiators are also considering agreements on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, intellectual property, e-commerce and data protection, which could affect universities.

Some member states may support a TTIP higher education agreement as they are in favour of commodification. In the UK there are universities that have opened campuses abroad and the whole ambience is entrepreneurial, says Davies. But that’s not true of other countries.

However, awareness of the TTIP negotiations in universities and rector associations remains low, which could be a problem if higher education is included in a final deal. If an agreement is reached, it will be presented to ministers and the European Parliament and there won’t be much time for lobby groups to amend whatever has been decided, says Davies.

The Parliament and environmental groups have been pushing for more transparency in the discussions to aid public debate. Davies says this has made the negotiating parties more nervous about public opinion. But it will never be totally transparent because you can’t conduct negotiations in a glass box, he says.

This article also appeared in Research Europe
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Steven Kelk, Sunday 7th July 2013 (from GATSeducation Yahoo Group:
Negotiations begin on new services deal (05 July 2013)

Trade talks aimed at developing a new global services pact have begun following an agreement on a negotiating framework earlier this year.

The Trade in International Services Agreement (TISA) is being negotiated by the so-called ‘Real Good Friends of Services’ within the World Trade Organisation: Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States.

Informal talks within the group began last year in response to pressure from business groups frustrated with the impasse in WTO negotiations to develop new and enhanced commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

In March, negotiators agreed to adopt a ‘hybrid’ framework for the talks which would involve countries making market access commitments on a ‘positive list’ basis, and national treatment on a ‘negative list’ basis. With a positive list approach, countries agree to liberalise only those service sectors that they agree to, while with a negative list agreeing to liberalise all areas except those explicitly excluded.

The WTO members engaged in the talks have indicated that no service sector will be excluded, but some are pushing for priorities. A joint Australia-EU paper issued late last year suggested 10 issues should be the focus of the TISA: cross-border movement of professionals; domestic regulation and transparency; financial services; professional services; information and communications services; transport and logistics services;  maritime services; environmental services; energy services; and government procurement.

‘While education services are not a specific focus of the talks to date, we nevertheless need to watch developments closely, says Education International’s trade consultant David Robinson. ‘For instance, the inclusion of domestic regulation could affect rules around the  accreditation of schools, and around qualification requirements that could  have an impact on the design and delivery of vocational education and training’.

Robinson added that the targeting of financial services for further liberalisation is particularly worrisome given how weak regulatory oversight played a key role in the economic crisis of 2008.

‘If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years it’s that the liberalisation of financial services has been a catastrophic disaster for the economy, for government finances, for working people, and for public services including education,’ Robinson said. ‘Trade deals threaten to constrain policy space precisely at a time when governments need to rein in the financial sector’.

Robinson noted reports that the financial industry is lobbying to use trade deals as a way of weakening domestic regulations.

According to U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, there are ‘growing murmurs’ about the financial industry’s efforts to ‘do quietly through trade agreements what they can’t get done in public view with the lights on and people watching’.

In letter published in May, Peter Allgeier, a former U.S. Trade Representative and now president of the Coalition of Services Industries, said that trade rules require that regulations are ‘least trade and investment distorting’ and do not constitute a ‘disguised barrier to trade’.

Meanwhile, WTO members not participating in the TISA talks have criticized the initiative as undermining the multilateral approach of the WTO. Brazil, China, and India have been vocal opponents of TISA.


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