Several GPA accessions nearing final stages
All members who spoke welcomed the “strong” (for some, “very strong”) latest market access offer that Australia circulated a few weeks ago and expressed hope that Canberra's accession negotiations could be completed before the end of the year.
Members expressed a few outstanding concerns, mainly about the coverage of sub-central governmental entities (proposed list of entities whose procurements would be open for competition), preferences to benefit small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and high thresholds (minimum values of contracts whereby GPA provisions would apply).
The Chair of the Committee, John Newham of Ireland, expressed hope that this accession “could be completed in principle at the Committee's next meeting in October,” on the basis of a final offer to be submitted by Australia. Australia has been negotiating its GPA accession since September 2015.
The Kyrgyz Republic announced that internal procedures were ongoing to prepare a final market access offer and replies to members' questions. The Chair expressed hope that the minor remaining concerns could be resolved soon in the revised final offer. A party also raised concerns regarding a 20% price preference for suppliers from the Kyrgyz Republic and its Eurasian Economic Union partners. “This GPA accession is nearing its final stages”, the Chair stressed.
The Kyrgyz Republic’s latest revised offer was circulated in October 2016.
Tajikistan reiterated that acceding to the GPA remains a priority for Dushanbe and that the circulation of a revised offer addressing most of parties' outstanding concerns was expected shortly. Many delegations expressed hope for a conclusion of the process still this year. One said this accession is “near the end-game” and praised Tajikistan for the “impressive progress”. The concerns expressed in the past related to a price preference program and transitional thresholds. Tajikistan has consistently been providing new offers since it started negotiations in February 2015.
New GPA accession talks kick off
The Committee started discussing the accession negotiations of Russia and of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, following their respective recent submissions. Accession candidates are required to submit for WTO members’ review an initial market access offer and replies to a checklist regarding their national procurement legislation. This forms the basis for negotiating accession to the GPA.
The Chair “congratulated” Russia for having circulated its initial market access offer a few weeks ago. Russia said that its procurement system, as the basis of its offer, aimed to ensure transparency, competition and procurement efficiency. The offer covers 30% of the total regional government procurement and includes almost all construction services and exceptions related to security issues, Russia explained.
Delegations welcomed Russia's initial offer, while at the same time calling for significant future improvements, including fewer exceptions, an expanded coverage of goods, services and governmental entities, and lower thresholds. They also called on Russia to submit replies to the checklist of issues to help them better understand the country's government procurement system.
The Chair reported “a good start on a GPA accession that would be very significant for the multilateral trading system” and encouraged Russia to submit its replies to the checklist of issues.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
GPA parties “warmly received” (the Chair) the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's GPA application for accession, which was submitted in March along with replies to the checklist of issues. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the latest WTO member to have applied for GPA accession. All members who spoke expressed hope for the country's prompt GPA accession.
Other accession processes
China said it is still consulting with internal stakeholders on preparing its next market access offer, underlining difficulties and obstructions related to enhancing the coverage of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). China called on parties to be pragmatic and to give special consideration to its situation as a developing country.
Several members called on China to accelerate the consultations and to provide a timeline for submitting its revised offer. All expressed hope for progress in the coming months given their strong interest in this accession.
The Chair encouraged China to submit a revised and improved market access offer, which is necessary to reinvigorate its negotiations process and, if possible, to announce a timeline for doing so.
Georgia briefed the Committee on the current reform of its government procurement system in the areas of anti-corruption, public administration and electronic governance, based on international best practices. It also mentioned the entry into force of its association agreement with the EU and the signing of a free trade agreement with parties to the European Free Trade Association(1), which includes a government procurement chapter based on the revised GPA, last year.
Other currently inactive accession negotiations include Albania, Georgia, Jordan and Oman. In addition, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and Seychelles have GPA-related commitments in their Protocol of accession to the WTO — resulting from negotiations with WTO members.
Outreach to Latin America
Reporting on a WTO Secretariat workshop held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in May to foster dialogue among Latin American countries on trade and government procurement, the Chair said he saw good possibilities for more WTO members to seek observer status in the GPA Committee. The potential existed for a regional initiative on trade and government procurement that could lead, eventually, to accession by relevant WTO members, as parties to the GPA(2). This is all the more possible as several free trade agreements in the region already contain government procurement provisions.
In this vein, the WTO's upcoming Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires next December could be a platform for Latin American countries to discuss this with GPA parties, the Chair pointed out.
Implementation of the revised GPA
Switzerland is the last party yet to implement, through ongoing legislative reforms, the revised GPA, which was adopted in 2012 and entered into force in April 2014. The delegation said the legislative procedures are going as planned and confirmed that following the adoption of required legislation by the Swiss Parliament and the Cantons, the Instrument of Acceptance of the GPA would be submitted without further delay. The Chair called on Switzerland to finalize the procedures as soon as practically possible.
Work on how to promote the participation of SMEs in government procurement, on the collection of statistics and on sustainability is under way based on proposals by several members. The WTO Secretariat confirmed plans to develop an online training course on the GPA.
The next set of formal and informal plurilateral discussions of the Committee will take place in mid-October 2017.