The WTO's Ministerial Conference of 1996 in Singapore set up a multilateral Working Group on Transparency in Government Procurement. The aims of the Working Group were to conduct a study on transparency in government procurement practices, taking into account national policies and, on that basis, to develop elements suitable for inclusion in an appropriate agreement.
The Working Group on Transparency in Government Procurement began its work in 1997 by examining the transparency-related provisions in existing international instruments and national practices. It then developed and carried out a study of 12 issues relating to a potential agreement on transparency in government procurement, spanning the following four broad subject areas:
- the definition of government procurement and the scope and coverage of a potential agreement
- the substantive elements of a potential agreement on transparency in government procurement, including various aspects of access to general and specific procurement-related information and procedural matters
- compliance mechanisms of a potential agreement
- issues relating to developing countries, including the role of special and differential treatment as well as technical assistance and capacity building.
Doha Ministerial Conference
At the WTO's Fourth Ministerial Conference, held in Doha in November 2001, ministers recognized the case for a multilateral agreement on transparency in government procurement and agreed that negotiations would take place after the Fifth Ministerial Conference “on the basis of a decision to be taken, by explicit consensus, at that Session on modalities of negotiations”. They addressed, among other things, an issue of particular concern to developing countries by explicitly stating that “negotiations shall be limited to the transparency aspects and therefore will not restrict the scope for countries to give preferences to domestic supplies and suppliers”.
Cancún Ministerial Conference
At the Fifth Ministerial Conference, held in Cancún in September 2003, WTO members could not agree on launching negotiations. In the absence of any substantive outcome on this, as well as any of the other Doha Development Agenda issues, ministers referred the whole agenda to the General Council.
General Council decision
On 1 August 2004, the WTO General Council adopted a decision, which addressed, among other things, the handling of the issue of transparency in government procurement as well as the relationship between trade and investment and the interaction between trade and competition. The Council agreed that “those issues will not form part of the Doha Work Programme and therefore no work towards negotiations (...) will take place within the WTO during the Doha Round”. Since this decision was taken, the Working Group on Transparency in Government Procurement has been inactive.
Documents of particular interest include:
- a note by the WTO Secretariat providing a synthesis of the information available on transparency-related provisions in existing international instruments on government procurement procedures and on national practices.
- two notes by the WTO Secretariat WT/WGTGP/W/32 and WT/WGTGP/W/33 summarising the discussions in the Working Group up to autumn 2002.
- the report of the Working Group to the General Council for 2003, summarising the discussions in the Working Group after autumn 2002.