Education International
Education International

Behind the scenes at the WTO

published 2 December 2009 updated 2 December 2009

The second day of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva has seen trade ministers shift their deliberations about the future of the multilateral trading system to closed working sessions.

Behind the scenes, informal talks between delegations have to date focused primarily on the contentious agricultural and industrial tariff talks.

However, in a meeting with European Union officials, EI delegates raised concerns about the impact of increased services liberalization in light of the current economic crisis.

“In response to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, governments have actively responded by re-regulating financial services, investing in public infrastructure and utilities, and expanding public services like education,” said EI’s trade consultant David Robinson.

Although more is needed, he added, the consensus is that these measures have moderated the impact of the crisis and is helping to build some stability.

“Many of these measures may in fact be inconsistent with the GATS,” he told negotiators. “In light of this, then surely the EU and other countries should be proceeding with caution and taking stock of how GATS commitments could reduce their policy space to meet the economic and decent work challenges we face.”

EU officials held a series of bilateral meetings just prior to the Ministerial Conference to ask countries to reconfirm the verbal indications they gave at last year’s GATS signalling conference about what service sectors they are willing to liberalize.

Most countries indicated they would honour those commitments, but that they could not improve their offers, including the offers on education services.

EI delegates also attended a meeting with U.S. officials where it was clear that despite the official commitment on the part of the United States Trade Representative to conclude the Doha Round in 2010, deep gaps remain.

U.S. officials insisted they have tabled significant offers, but have received little in return.

That has outraged many delegations. A communiqué issued by the Group of 33 developing countries criticized the United States for a lack of leadership in the talks, saying that the failure of the U.S. to engage constructively is jeopardizing the round.