EI is concerned that education does not become liberalised through TiSA, a bigger threat than TTIP


TiSA negotiations – a multinational huddle

Education International (EI) has welcomed recommendations adopted by the European Parliament on the exclusion of public services, including education, from the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which is currently going through its 16th round of secret negotiations.

TiSA is one of the three contentious and secretive international treaties—including TTiP and TPP—ostensibly designed to open up international trade but increasingly seen as vehicles for globalising privatisation. TiSA is currently being negotiated by 23 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including the EU and the US who have been the agreement’s main movers. Together, the participating countries account for 70% of world trade in services including banking, insurance, healthcare and transport. There is concern that TiSA will seek to expand such trade into public or state-funded services such as national health services, state-owned energy suppliers or education.

The European Commission (EC) has made its position on public services and TiSA clear. TiSA seeeks to create an open and competitive environment for foreign and local suppliers of services, so that foreign commercial suppliers from any country signed-up to the agreement will not be blocked from competing to provide any services in any other such country. According to the EC, however, companies from outside its borders will not be allowed to provide publicly funded healthcare or social services.

That’s a very limited concession to the principle of public service provision.

In early February, however, the European Parliament adopted a resolution confirming its belief that the EU and all national and local authorities from within the EU should retain the full right to introduce, adopt, maintain, or repeal any measures with regard to the commissioning, organisation, funding, and provision of public services. In effect, this would allow EU or EU-based authorities to reverse, if not to block, liberalisation of markets—a measure that would be prohibited by provisions in the currently proposed text of TiSA. The Parliament’s resolution also said that the exclusion of public services from TiSA should apply no matter how the public services are provided and funded. That is, public services should be excluded from TiSA regardless of whether they are publicly or privately funded.

The Parliament’s resolution stressed the need to exclude “current and future services of general interest and services of general economic interest from the scope of application of the agreement (including, but not limited to, water, health, social services, social security systems and education, waste management and public transport)”. And it argued for the introduction of a “gold standard” clause in TiSA. This could be included in all trade agreements and would ensure that the public utilities clause applied to all modes of supply and to any services considered to be public services by EU or EU-based authorities, in any sector and irrespective of the service’s monopoly status.

This offers much more substantial support for the principle of public service provision and, for the first time, includes specific reference to education—hence EI’s enthusiastic welcome for the Parliament’s resolution.

EI is concerned that education does not become liberalised through TiSA, which it considers to be significantly more of a threat that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“Recent … research shows that in the case of TiSA, the EC offers a higher level of liberalisation in the education sector compared to the TTIP negotiations,” explained Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of EI.

EI joined with other organisations in a public statement ‘Why TiSA negotiations should be halted’. This says that TiSA draft texts expose serious threats to public services, the quality of its services, the universal access to public services and the rights of public service workers, and deplores the extreme level of secrecy that shrouds the TiSA negotiations. There is barely any public transparency and no involvement of trade unions or civil society organisations.

EI has also raised its concerns about public services to rapporteur Viviane Reding and emphasised to need to protect education and other public services.

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Gary Herman

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