Delhi carries on from Cancun

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  • Published 21.09.03

New Delhi, Sept. 21: Policymakers in India want to have regional trading arrangements with developing countries in the service sector, particularly in education and health, to strengthen their hand against the developed countries in the next round of talks on General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats) scheduled next year.

“India took a very firm stand in the recent WTO talks in Cancun. As a follow-up from here, we should start having our own arrangements with the developing countries in health, education so that we appear a strong bloc and can take on the developed countries once again in the next round,” said Prof. G.D. Sharma of the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (Niepa), a thinktank for the human resources development ministry.

The HRD ministry has begun preliminary talks with Niepa officials and experts to thrash out the best bargaining strategy for Gats.

“It will help us if we can further our ties in the service sector with the 22 developing countries which stood by each other in Cancun,” said Sharma.

Like in agriculture, India shares common interests in the service sector as well. “The developing countries will have to work out a parameter for trading their skills and know-how,” he added.

The most common example cited in this regard is China’s urgent need for more and more English teachers.

“We have a very large reservoir of people who can teach English. We should use this to our advantage and work out an arrangement with China,” stressed experts.

“We can share our expertise in research and development with the Gulf and African countries in exchange for their knowledge of special skills,” they pointed out.

The questions asked about Gats are whether it will stand in the way of meaningful healthcare reforms or jeopardise programmes like social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment and medicare. Critics say it will threaten public services and undermine domestic regulation.

Even without a formal Gats regime in place, India is already feeling the pinch of the entry of foreign universities. These universities have opened offices and institutions in the major cities, clearly indicating the competition Indian educational institutions will have to face in the future if it puts its signature on Gats.

“Like in the case of agriculture, there will be pressure on us from the developed countries to open up as many sectors in health and education as possible. India is a huge market,” said a government official.

Those who are coming into a huddle on this subject believe India and the other developing countries will be able to position themselves better if they can forge links among themselves in the service sector.

“For the time being, our biggest dependence on the developed countries is in the sector of knowledge,” Sharma said.