Wondering about the shape of education in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? …So are we!

Aliandra Barlete, 26 October 2015

The recent announcement of the conclusion of negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the 5th of October has left the world concerned about its impact and consequences not only for the signatory countries, but also the rest of the world. What will be the impact of this agreement on others still on the table; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) involving the USA and Europe and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) involving Canada and Europe. We’ll be profiling these negotiations in future entries.

So what of the history of TPP? Expanded from the 2005 Trans-Pacific Economic Agreement, TPP has been 7 years in the making; an alternative route for negotiating after the stalled WTO GATS negotiations, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam are now to finalise the text for the agreement, to be composed of 30 chapters. According to Canada’s External Relations Office when implemented TPP will affect 800 million people in the 12 participating countries, which create a combined GDP of almost US$ 30 trillion.

TPP’s influence in the education systems of signatory countries is still to be officially announced. Most themes emerging from the negotiations hint about links to Research, Development and Innovation, along with the further and higher education sectors: to “promote economic growth, support higher-paying jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and to promote transparency, good governance, and strong labor and environmental protections” (Ministers’ Statement).

A quick look on the text for the chapters and the communication in English from the TPP countries reveals a rather curious – although not surprising – picture. First, not all countries seem to have acknowledged so far the role of education in their official communication about TPP. This has been the case for Peru, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore. Second, Australia and New Zealand are keen to highlight universities and education providers will be able to “export services” to markets in the developing partner countries. In a different approach, the US mentions “scientific research and development” as a service for trade. Third, and in contrast to the previous aspect, Mexico and Chile disclose the negotiations around education services as included in the “Cooperation” chapter of the TPP agreement. Interestingly, Canada offers a similar discourse by applying terms such as “capacity building for development” when referring to education – also in the Cooperation chapter. The US also links education to Cooperation. However, Canada and New Zealand state that they have decided to exclude their public education systems from the scope of the agreement. So how do we make sense of these different positionings?

From this brief analysis, it is possible to observe on the one hand a movement from the developed countries to sell education services as part of the trade objectives; on the other, developing countries considering import of education as development. Will developing countries use the same strategy as Canada and New Zealand did to protect their public education systems? It will be interesting to learn how education will be portrayed in the final TPP agreement, and who will win and who lose with regards to education this massive trade game.

Editor’s note: Aliandra Barlete is a doctoral candidate in the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures, University of Bristol. Her research explores the changing relationship between higher education and Mercosur. Contact: a.barlete@bristol.ac.uk