WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


29 June 1998

WTO Members look at growing use of Internet in government procurement

The Internet holds enormous potential for providing instant and easy access to government procurement information, driving down costs for suppliers and procuring agencies, and increasing the overall efficiency of the procurement process. It can also provide small and medium enteprises, even from distant locations, with the opportunity to participate in government tendering opportunities.

A demonstration on the application of information technology in government procurement, organized by the Secretariat on 24 June at the WTO headquarters, underscored that a number of WTO Members--developed, in transition and developing--are already taking advantage of the Internet in procurement.

Experts from Canada, the European Communities, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Singapore and the United States and the WTO Secretariat gave on-line demonstrations. There were also panel discussions on policy issues arising from the use of information technology to facilitate access to information on procurement opportunities and on contracts awards; the possibility of conducting the entire procurement process electronically; and the need for infrastructure building and technical cooperation in developing countries.

The demonstrations also showed that electronic procurement, in particular electronic tendering, is becoming a reality in a number of countries with pilot projects already operational or in the planning stage. Among the topics discussed were ensuring the security and confidentiality of bids submitted electronically and in the bid opening process, and the compatibility of IT standards employed.

The experts said developing countries can also benefit quickly from the use of information technology in improving their government procurement by leapfrogging increasingly outdated technologies. It was recognized that this would require investment in infrastructure and training for both within the government and of suppliers, and experts from some developing and transition economies described how they were able to clear this hurdle. Some experts from industrialized countries expressed the readiness of their governments to provide technical cooperation in this regard.

In opening the event, Mr. Adrian Otten, Director of the Intellectual Property and Investment Division, said that the event had relevance to ongoing WTO work in three areas: the Working Group on Transparency in Government Procurement established at the Singapore Ministerial; the plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement, where Parties are negotiating, among other things, on adapting the Agreement to recent developments in information technology; and the work programme on electronic commerce called for by the Second Ministerial Conference held last month.

Among the potential benefits of Internet use highlighted by the speakers were the following: gains in efficiency for both government purchasers and suppliers as a result of time and cost savings; small and medium-scale enterprises and suppliers in remote locations can have equal access to procurement information as companies with large sales staff and local suppliers; all suppliers can track down quickly and efficiently procurement data of interest to them as well as national regulations and procedures through search engines; the increasing use of systems to allow for the ordering and delivery of tender documents electronically; and increased competition for government procurement contracts with a significantly larger average number of bids.

The following conducted the on-line demonstrations: Mr. Ken Stepka of NASA on the United States' Commerce Business Daily Net and Mr. Stephen Ward on EDS-ULAN II Superstore, GSA Advantage and FedCenter Virtual Shopping Mall; Mr. Lee How Sheng and Mr. Mark Tan on Singapore's GITIS (Government Tendering Information System) and on MIPS (Ministry of Defence Internet Procurement System), respectively; Mr. Piotr-Niels Górecki on Poland's Public Procurement Bulletin; Ms. Rosanna Fiorin on Canada's MERX Electronic Tendering System; Mr. Antonio G. Schleske Fara on Mexico's COMPRANET Electronic System for Government Procurement; Ms. Vivi Michou on the European Communities' SIMAP (Système d'Information pour les Marchés Publics); Ms. Helga M. Stromme on Norway's DOFFIN (Database on Official Information on Public Procurement); and Mr. Atsushi Takata on Japan's Government Procurement Database System. Mrs. Vesile Kulaçoglu presented the WTO Secretariat's Government Procurement site on the WTO Homepage (www.wto.org).

The panel discussions were led by Mr. Stepka of the NASA; Mr. Lee How Sheng of the Ministry of Finance of Singapore; Mr. Górecki of the Polish Office for Government Procurement; Mr. Auke Haagasma of the DG XV EC; Mr. Ward of EDS, Inc.; Mr. Matti Salminen of Finnish Government Publications: Mr. Schleske Farah of SEDOCAM; and Mr. Hans Erik Hansen of IBM Inc.