Parties to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) also reviewed progress in the accessions of five other WTO members, namely China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan.(1)
GPA parties expressed hope that they could finalize Australia’s GPA accession negotiations before the end of the year through the adoption of a draft decision to be formally adopted in the last quarter of 2018. The decision will invite Australia to accede to the Agreement based on the terms set out in its final market access offer, which outlines to what extent Australia commits to opening its government procurement market to the current GPA parties. Australia has been negotiating its GPA accession since September 2015.
GPA parties accepted Belarus's bid for observer status to the Committee. It is the first country to ask to become an observer to the revised GPA while also negotiating its accession to the WTO. Parties welcomed Belarus's announcement that it is considering initiating negotiations to become a full party to the Agreement once it is admitted as a WTO member.
The United Kingdom presented its bid to join the GPA in its own right as it will cease to be a party to the Agreement under the umbrella of EU commitments after its departure from the European Union. Under negotiation is a government procurement market worth at least GBP 67 billion (USD 88 billion), the UK said (based on 2013 figures). As an EU member, the UK has participated in the GPA for over 20 years.
The UK's initial market access offer and replies to a checklist on its national government procurement legislation were circulated to parties in June. The UK explained that, under the proposed offer, GPA parties will continue to enjoy the same level of entity coverage and of market access post-Brexit, as its offer replicates its current commitments under the EU. The UK also highlighted the urgency to agree upon its terms of membership in order to ensure its seamless continued participation in the Agreement after Brexit.
Further clarity was sought by parties on: a) details of the market access commitments the UK would be granting them; b) its EU withdrawal agreement, including timelines that would apply to the GPA; and c) the internal procurement legislation the UK intends to put in place. Several parties requested more time to review the documents on the table. The EU noted that no decision on a transition period has been taken yet.
The Chair welcomed the parties’ apparent recognition of their "collective interest" in seamless ongoing participation of the UK in the GPA post-Brexit, with several acknowledging the relative urgency to do so. “This is a very positive step forward," he said.
The GPA aims to open up, in a reciprocal manner and to the extent agreed between WTO members, government procurement markets to foreign competition, and make government procurement more transparent. It provides legal guarantees of non-discrimination for the products, services or suppliers of GPA parties in procurement covered by the Agreement. The GPA is a plurilateral agreement — potentially open to all WTO members and binding only the parties to the Agreement. Currently, 47 WTO members (including the EU and its 28 member states) are bound by the Agreement.
Progress on other GPA accession talks
Several other WTO members are negotiating with the current parties their potential future accession to the Agreement.
A senior delegation from Beijing led by Mr Wang Shaoshuang, Deputy Director General of the Treasury Department of the Ministry of Finance, echoed President Xi Jinping's ambition to speed up China's GPA accession negotiations. An upcoming revised offer would likely include expanded coverage of sub-central governmental entities (proposed list of entities whose procurement would be open for competition(2)) and of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), Mr Wang said. The delegation also informed parties that its government procurement system is undergoing a process of domestic reform in line with the terms set out in the WTO's GPA.
Citing a Chinese proverb, the Vice Minister said: "it takes two hands to clap", and called on parties to express "pragmatic and reasonable expectations" that would give special consideration to China's specific situation.
Parties urged China "to submit a credible and ambitious offer" that responds to their past requests for improvement. All the members that spoke expressed hope for prompt progress on this important accession.
The Chair encouraged China to submit a revised and improved market access offer swiftly.
China's fifth revised market access offer had been circulated in December 2014.
The discussions focused on a revised final offer that the Kyrgyz Republic had submitted a few days before the meeting. The delegation reiterated that joining the GPA remained a priority for them. "More time is needed for parties to review the revised offer on the table and to bring this accession to a conclusion without undue delay," the Chair concluded.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and GPA parties further discussed the country's “ambitious” initial offer, which mirrors the EU's government procurement commitments under the GPA. It announced further improvements of its full-scale electronic procurement system to enhance efficiency and transparency and to ease access to the government procurement market for national and foreign operators alike.
These negotiations have made "an impressive start," the Chair said, just one year after they were launched. Members expressed hope for the negotiations to be swiftly concluded. Some also expressed concerns with certain country-specific notes and derogations in the current offer.
Russia informed parties about its upcoming revised market access offer and updated replies to the checklist. Some of the concerns voiced by GPA parties about the current offer include high thresholds (minimum values of contracts whereby GPA provisions would apply) and limited entity coverage, among other things. "This accession would have a very positive impact on world trade," the Chair noted. Negotiations on Russia's GPA accession kicked off a year ago, with an initial market access offer.
Tajikistan said it intends to circulate a revised market access offer shortly. Among the outstanding concerns expressed by GPA parties are a price preference programme and transitional thresholds. Parties said they look forward to receiving the final revised offer. "This accession made good progress in the past and it would be a pity not having it conclude in the near future", the Chair said. He encouraged the delegation to "submit a revised offer as soon as possible, taking into account parties' concerns". Tajikistan's latest offer was circulated in February 2017.
Other countries with currently pending accession negotiations include Albania, Georgia, Jordan and Oman. In addition, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and Seychelles have GPA-related commitments in their respective Protocols of accession to the WTO — resulting from negotiations with WTO members. The Chair suggested reaching out to these countries to propose technical assistance from GPA parties and/or the WTO Secretariat to reactivate the negotiations.
The WTO Secretariat said various other WTO members expressed interest in potentially joining the GPA during several workshops it held across several continents on trade and government procurement.
Implementation of the revised GPA
Parties welcomed the update by Switzerland, who stated its Parliament is finalizing the adoption of the Instrument of Acceptance of the revised GPA. The document will then be reviewed by the Swiss cantons.
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 Chair called on Switzerland to finalize the procedures "as soon as practically possible."
The Chair reported "good progress" on the work carried out by members on various agreed work programmes:
- small and medium-sized enterprises: members are working on a draft list of best practices to be circulated within the Committee;
- collecting statistics: members are working on improving their understanding of methodologies to collect data on procurement covered by the GPA;
- sustainability: the WTO Secretariat will circulate a draft report summarizing past work of the GPA parties. The document will be based on an outline provided by the parties.
GPA parties also discussed and were invited by the EU Commission to an international conference on the "Digital transformation of public procurement" to be held in Lisbon in October.
Note was taken of a Workshop on Trade, Gender and Government Procurement held at the WTO on 25 June 2018 at which WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said: "Improving women's access to government procurement would unlock many opportunities for female entrepreneurs, with a direct impact on their economic wellbeing." His remarks are available here.
GPA parties elected Carlos Vanderloo of Canada as the new Chair. Warm thanks were expressed for the service of the outgoing Chair, John Newham of Ireland.
The next set of formal and informal plurilateral discussions of the Committee will take place in mid-October 2018.The report on the last meeting of the Committee (March 2018) is available here.