Introduction The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) introduces complexity into the international governance of education: it creates a new international arena for negotiation concerned with national education governance, and it realizes a comprehensive economic perspective on education. Since this agreement was created in the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, new non-conventional actors and extra-educational rationales are introduced into the international regulation of education activities. The system of rules of GATS pushes for a progressive trade liberalization of education all over the world and, consequently, for the transnationalization and privatization of education systems. Education liberalization under GATS, however, is also a contested process (Scherrer 2007). Teachers’ unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the field of development, associations of public universities and other education stakeholders have opposed and campaigned against GATS in different countries and at a range of levels from the local to the global (Verger and Bonal 2008). In this chapter, I explore the influence of these actors on GATS outcomes in the education field. My hypothesis is that domestic contestation to GATS and the ideas (for and against) the liberalization of trade in education services are able to shape the preferences and behavior of state actors in the negotiation process. I explore the explanatory power of these elements through a constructivist approach. My arguments are based on intensive fieldwork involving country studies on Argentina and Chile, which are analyzed by means of a comparative strategy.1 Argentina and Chile are countries with similar characteristics – both are developing countries, with a similar social structure and located in the same region – but they demonstrate very different behavior in trade policies and, specifically, in the introduction of education in trade agreements. This makes it especially pertinent for the comparison of both cases. The similarity in the main features of the cases and the differences manifested in the independent variable provide the appropriate conditions to create knowledge through comparison (Green 2002). The chapter is divided in four main sections. The first section introduces the role of ideas in politics. In the second section I briefly explain GATS and justify

the pertinence of analyzing GATS negotiations in education through a constructivist approach. In the third section I explore the process of preference-shaping in relation to GATS and education in the two selected countries, Argentina and Chile. Finally, I conclude by contrasting the empirical case study observations with the constructivist theoretical framework.