GLOBAL: Political runes support 2010 WTO deal

The diplomatic stars are lining up for a World Trade Organization deal at the Doha Development Round next year, which could significantly liberalise access to higher education markets round the globe.

Talks have now restarted on the lynchpin agricultural portion of the round, which must succeed if there is to be a deal on updating the general agreement on the trade in services which covers higher education.

WTO Secretary General Pascal Lamy has also started hands-on involvement on another tough topic for the round that has defied agreement since it was launched in 2001: intellectual property rights for wines and spirits.

Speaking in Geneva, Lamy said he sensed from recent summits held in Bali, Paris, L'Aquila and Singapore, "a genuine and strong renewal of political commitment to re-engage in the Doha negotiations to conclude it in 2010".

He said the autumn would be a busy period for all negotiating groups and that "we have to ensure the whole caravan moves forward together and arrives on time."

The reasons for optimism why the oft-delayed Doha deal may finally be concluded are largely political. The new US president is distinctly more multi-lateralist than his predecessor and more inclined to solve international disputes with compromise.

A new European Commission, including the crucial appointment of a trade commissioner, will assume office in November while India also has a stronger and more international-minded government. This is crucial given New Delhi's responsibility last year for preventing a possible Doha deal. And China is looking for ways to boost its export-led economy in a recession.

At stake for the higher education sector is the right of universities to provide services in foreign countries, either through the internet or through branches and partnerships. Also, the right of academics to move around the world and have their qualifications recognised could be strengthened by a Doha deal, amongst other potential benefits.

Lamy noted: "It is encouraging that many world leaders have signalled very clearly their determination to press ahead with the Doha negotiations and move them to a conclusion very soon. Negotiators here in Geneva have heeded the calls of leaders and got back to work quickly and seriously."