Trade in Education Services
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Trade in education services is part of the broader international negotiations in what is called the service industries sector under the treaties that govern international trade. These agreements are coordinated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). International relations in the services sector are currently governed by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a treaty to which the United States and 139 other countries belong and which came into force in 1995. Education is part of the service industries sector under the GATS framework.

Nature of WTO and GATS. WTO and the GATS provide a framework within which countries can reach agreements on lowering barriers to the provision of services across national borders and establishing mutually satisfactory rules for importing and exporting services. The concern of WTO and GATS is with the free movement of people and service. Each country is permitted to define and regulate services according to its laws and practices, and negotiators are limited to what they have authority to negotiate under national laws.

Limitations on U.S. Federal Negotiators. The U.S. government can only negotiate what is agreed to by the U.S. state and territorial governments, which oversee education and other service sectors. These governments must be polled and agree in writing prior to any U.S. trade proposal. The U.S. government cannot negotiate on matters left to the discretion of educational providers or to state governments without prior consultation and the development of a consensus position. State governments have the right to make reservations on matters of law and policy which are incorporated into U.S. proposals and negotiating positions. Educational providers are regularly consulted through focus groups and representation on the service industries advisory committee, which works with the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Goals of Trade in Education Services Negotiations. The U.S. government seeks to ensure that our educational institutions and educational service providers may operate in other countries without excessive harassment, discriminatory policies, or legal barriers; to ensure that U.S. education professionals working overseas are not subject to laws or regulations that limit their ability to function in unreasonable ways; and to ensure that U.S. educational providers, their staff, and their property (including intellectual property) can move freely across borders as needed and enjoy legal protection of their copyrighted or patented products and services, such as educational materials and tests. The U.S. government does not negotiate with other countries on matters that are the prerogative of state and local governments or schools and institutions, such as admissions policies, curricula, graduation requirements, professional education requirements or other areas outside federal authority.

Role of the Department of Education. The Department has an advisory role in trade matters and serves as one of the agencies that provide information and assistance to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) as requested.

ED Contact:     E. Stephen Hunt


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Last Modified: 07/13/2009