On May 29, the World Trade Organization's Council on Trade in Services adopted a set of guidelines for mutual recognition agreements in accountancy intended to bridge differences in national licensing systems, increase accountants' professional mobility, and ease the negotiation of recognition agreements. In adopting these guidelines, the WTO has concluded part of the work mandated in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky welcomed the adoption of the guidelines. "This is another step toward removing impediments to trade and investment in services," said Ambassador Barshefsky. "It will make it easier for accountants to serve foreign markets."
Up to this point, bilateral agreements have been the most common way to achieve recognition. Variations in education, examination standards, experience requirements and regulatory systems have made it difficult to implement recognition on a multilateral basis. The WTO hopes bilateral agreements will ultimately extend mutual recognition more broadly.
The WTO guidelines, produced by the Council's Working Party on Professional Services, are voluntary and non-binding; they are broad and flexible to accommodate the wide variety of licensing systems for accountancy around the world. Guidelines developed for the accountancy profession may also be useful for other professions interested in facilitating their international presence. Copies of the guidelines are available from the WTO's web site: http://www.wto.org/wto/Whats_new/press73.htm. (sources: United States Trade Representative Press Release, July 2, 1997 and the WTO web site)
Initiated by seven key professions (engineering, architecture, law, medicine, nursing, veterinary medicine, and physical therapy), other professions and countries have joined the movement toward the development of common educational and professional standards in North America.
The nations of the English-speaking Caribbean, for example, have established a regional organization for quality assurance issues, including improvement of professional education. Also, the rectors of the universities representing the countries of South America met to discuss the feasibility of regional recognition and accreditation. In May of 1996, these rectors joined with the higher education leadership of the NAFTA countries (US, Canada and Mexico) for the fourth annual meeting on Trade Agreements, Higher Education, and the Globalization of the Professions, sponsored by Washington, D.C.'s Center for Quality Assurance in International Education.
Additionally, the region is conducting meetings with the primary professions, national ministries and global trade and education organizations to discuss regional approaches to harmonizing professional, educational standards. These meetings have given birth to the new Association of Accrediting Agencies of Canada (AAAC) and have contributed to the enhancement of institutional and professional accreditation in the pubic and private sectors in Mexican higher education
The Center for Quality Assurance's fifth gathering, entitled, Trade Agreements, Higher Education and the Globalization of the Professions: A Multinational Discourse on Quality Assurance and Global Competency, was held May 7-9 in Montreal, Canada. (source: The Center for Quality Assurance in International Education's Policy & News Report, vol. 6, no. 2, Spring/Summer 1997, p. 4)