WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Symposium on the Revised WTO Agreement on Government Procurement

Remarks by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo


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Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. Welcome to the WTO.

I am very pleased to join you this morning.

I hope you have had a good start into this discussion earlier today, and I know you have a busy schedule ahead of you, so I'll be fairly brief.

Government procurement is hugely significant, not only in economic terms, but also because of the impact it has on both trade and development.

It is central in providing the infrastructure that enables trade to happen in the first place, including roads, railway systems, ports and airports.

And it has a very direct effect on people's lives, through the provision of important public services, such as health, education, defence and public security.

With all of these elements in mind, it is abundantly clear that the GPA is a very important agreement in the context of everything we do here in Geneva.

It helps to open markets and facilitate trade in the government procurement sector. And the GPA also extends the reach of some of the key principles of the WTO rulebook.

Through its provisions, the Agreement itself promotes transparency and good governance. It supports good practices in government procurement. And it serves as an important benchmark for national policy reforms.

These achievements clearly represent significant and sustained effort from the architects of the GPA.

Renegotiating the text and coverage of the revised GPA took more than a decade before it was finalised in 2012, ready to come into force last year.

This was a major achievement for the participants of the Agreement, for the WTO, and for the Committee on Government Procurement. 

The revisions that were adopted increased the Agreement's flexibility. They successfully adapted it to accommodate the widespread use of e-procurement tools. In addition, the renegotiation increased the value of the market access commitments under the Agreement by 80-100 billion dollars annually.

Today, the GPA parties have opened procurement activities worth an estimated 1.7 trillion dollars annually to international competition.

Clearly this is a very significant figure, representing the opening up of huge economic opportunities.

But perhaps the clearest sign of the relevance of the GPA — and its importance to the global economy — is its growing membership. 

In 1996 the Agreement covered a total of 22 WTO members. Today it covers 45. 

A significant part of this expansion is a result of the growth in the membership of the EU, but it also reflects the accession to the GPA of many other WTO members including Armenia, Iceland, Korea and Singapore — to name just a few.   

Every accession has added to the overall value of procurement covered by the GPA. They also elevate the Agreement's significance as a tool for shaping good procurement practices internationally.

In fact, the Agreement has been used as a template for elements of other regional and bilateral agreements that we have seen negotiated recently, extending the scope of the Agreement's principles well beyond its formal membership. 

There is a sense of momentum behind the GPA.

This summer, Montenegro and New Zealand deposited their instruments of accession.

And just yesterday, the terms of accession of Moldova were approved by the Government Procurement Committee. So I'd like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations to Moldova for this achievement.

And it doesn’t stop there:

  • Australia launched its bid for accession earlier this year.
  • The accession of Ukraine is expected to be concluded before the end of the year.
  • Tajikistan's accession is in the pipeline.
  • And I think there is more to come in the future, as work continues on the accessions of China and of other WTO members.

This is no simple task. It will require a lot more time and effort. But it certainly holds the potential to spread the benefits of the Agreement even more widely.  

Now, reaching new agreements is a very important part of our work at the WTO.

Bali showed that we could do that — and we have another opportunity to deliver more at our ministerial conference in Nairobi this December.

But at the same time, we must also recognise that there is great value in implementing the agreements we have already reached — and expanding their scope and membership.

This is why we are putting so much focus on implementing the agreements made in Bali — including the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

And it is also why the evolution of agreements like the GPA and the Information Technology Agreement are also critical.

Taking these agreements forward strengthens the trading system and bolsters opportunities for economic growth and development.

With this in mind, I encourage more WTO members — especially developing and emerging economies — to look at the benefits of GPA accession. 

The revised Agreement brings about some important factors that may address some of their own specific concerns.

It now includes improved transitional measures for developing countries.

It brings further transparency to procurement practices, which is an important sign of commitment to good governance.

In turn, this can have positive effects for efficiency and also as a means to attract foreign direct investment.

And I think we can do even more to demonstrate the GPA's importance.

For example, I think it would be useful to accumulate and disseminate more evidence of the value that the GPA could hold for interested WTO members. And I think we need to generate better statistical information to back such evidence. I am glad to see that this is on the agenda of this symposium and of the WTO Committee on Government Procurement itself.

Events like this can make a welcome contribution in shedding light on these — and other — matters, and in pointing towards possible ways forward.

So this is what these two days are all about, and I am glad to see such interest and commitment coming from the participants in this room.

As we look to the discussions ahead, let me just share some further important questions, which stand out to me:

  1. How can we better integrate small and medium-sized enterprises in procurement activities, while respecting the GPA's core principles?
  2. How can we better apply the concept of sustainability in government procurement?
  3. How can we deal with Public-Private Partnerships and other emerging procurement arrangements?
  4. How can we boost the role of the GPA as a tool of good governance?
  5. How can we improve coherence across the work of the different international organizations that deal with government procurement?

So there are many, many other topics where interesting and useful insights can arise — these are just some examples.

But I am pleased to see that the points that I have mentioned will be discussed in the course of the symposium. 

I am also glad that there will be some positive developments to report in terms of inter-organizational relationships and cooperation.

With such a diverse audience — including academics and experts, non-governmental organizations, GPA parties and  other WTO members — I am sure there will be some lively and constructive debates in the coming days.

So let me conclude now with one final thought.

When people think of the WTO, they think of big trade rounds — and of course, major trade rounds are very important. But the trading system has never been limited to that.

Sectoral approaches have provided an important avenue for groups of members to tackle specific issues of importance to them.

In this context the successful revision of the GPA, and its timely application, were major accomplishments for the parties and their economies. But they were also important steps in the history of global trade cooperation, and therefore in the history of the WTO.

So let me extend my appreciation to the organizers of this event, and wish you a very productive symposium.

Thank you for listening.

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