TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar18/14)
19 March 2018
Third World Network

GPA Committee Chair outlines five goals for this year
Published in SUNS #8644 dated 19 March 2018

Geneva, 16 Mar (Kanaga Raja) - The Chair of the Committee on Government Procurement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 14 March outlined five possible goals for the Committee to pursue this year.

The goals were outlined during the formal session of the GPA Committee, which oversees the implementation of the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), a plurilateral agreement within the framework of the WTO.

As to date, there are 19 parties to the GPA, comprising 47 WTO Members. Another 31 WTO Members are observers in the GPA Committee, with 10 of these Members in the process of acceding to the Agreement.

According to trade officials, the meeting chaired by Ambassador John Newham of Ireland, also undertook a review of the work done to date as well as looked at the next steps forward.

During the formal session, Members took up the issue of the election of a new Chair of the Committee, with three candidates having expressed their interest in taking up this position.

Ambassador Newham said that the level of interest and the quality of the volunteers is a very encouraging sign, and is to be welcomed.

The Chair agreed to continue to Chair the Committee right through to the next meetings that are scheduled for later this June.

In the meantime, the Chair said that he will do his best to move forward the choice of his successor, through consultations with delegations and the candidates, with a view to confirming a new Chair at the outset of the meetings in June.

According to trade officials, Ambassador Newham also put forward five possible goals for the Committee to pursue during the year:

* ensuring acceptance by all Parties of the 2012 revised GPA (the revised GPA subsequently entered into force on 6 April 2014);

* advancing on pending and future accessions;

* moving forward with its various Work Programmes;

* examine ongoing technological developments in the world of government procurement and its implications on the Committee's work; and

* continue to support and develop the WTO's e-GPA system.

With regards to the entry into force of the revised GPA, the Chair reported that one delegation (Switzerland) has yet to accept the 2012 Protocol to amend the GPA.

According to the Chair, acceptance by Switzerland will enable the GPA Committee to work efficiently and to move forward with confidence.

According to trade officials, in the informal session of the Committee that followed, Switzerland confirmed that its internal legislative and related procedures are moving ahead.

On the issue of accessions, noting that Australia's accession is about to be completed, Ambassador Newham said that he is hopeful to move to an informal agreement in principle on Australia's accession at the next scheduled set of meetings in June.

This is in light of the commercially meaningful offer which has been circulated by Australia, further explanations that have been or will be provided through bilateral engagement with its authorities, and the very encouraging statements that were made by a large majority of Parties at the session.

"This very significant accession to the Agreement is clearly within reach, and I support the Parties and Australia's intentions to maintain the momentum for a successful conclusion this year," the Chair underscored.

The Chair also said that Parties expressed their clear appreciation for the positive engagement shown by the Russian Federation, while several also suggested that significant improvements would be needed in its offer.

A number of Parties referred to their past requests and/or to their intention to submit, in the near future, additional questions and comments.

Seven Parties raised serious concerns regarding the references to Crimea and Sevastopol in Russian Federation's Replies to the Checklist of Issues, which they said must be removed in a future revision to the Checklist, as this annexation is illegal under international law.

According to trade officials, in response, the Russian Federation said it is acting in accordance with its national legislation stating that Crimea Federal District and the Federal city of Sevastopol are integral parts of the Russian Federation.

As for the accession of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Chair said that Parties welcomed, very warmly, the submission of the recently circulated initial offer.

They confirmed that the offer was overall strong and commercially meaningful and expressed support for a quick accession process.

Several indicated that they would still need additional time for further reflection in order to fully assess the offer and other information provided. One Party expressed clear reservations with regard to particular notes contained in the offer.

Macedonia said it will consider all comments it has received and will receive, and expressed its clear ambition to accede to the GPA as quickly as possible.

The Chair encouraged further bilateral engagement.

According to trade officials, the Kyrgyz Republic said that a revised offer had been discussed informally with relevant delegations and would be circulated in the near future.

It also reported on further amendments to its procurement law to ensure full compliance with the GPA.

Two Parties reported on positive bilateral consultations.

It is expected that a previously-flagged concern regarding a proposed price preference will be addressed in the delegation's forthcoming final offer.

Overall, said the Chair, it would seem that there are good prospects for prompt conclusion of this accession based on the very significant work that has already been done, if the delegation can successfully address the previously- mentioned concern, complete its internal consultations and bring forward its final offer.

Tajikistan provided an update to the GPA Committee on its current legislative reform process vis-a-vis its GPA accession which is based on the 2011 UNCITRAL Model Law on Public Procurement.

According to trade officials, while Tajikistan's accession is also well advanced, final efforts are still needed to put in place the legislation as well as to address outstanding concerns regarding a price preference program that is set out in its latest offer.

Ambassador Newham encouraged the Parties to engage bilaterally with Tajikistan to build on past progress.

According to trade officials, China reported on efforts under way in Beijing to increase internal coordination and co-operation to facilitate further progress on the preparation of a revised offer.

It also reported on a recent high-level dialogue with the European Union and GPA-related technical assistance provided by the WTO Secretariat.

Parties reiterated the need for a revised offer as a basis for further negotiations, and indicated their willingness to work with China. They further expressed hope that China will speed up its accession process.

Meanwhile, the Chair highlighted that active promotion of the GPA in Latin America and in other regions of the developing world should be continued by Parties and his successor.

The Chair further voiced confidence that the GPA Committee will continue to move forward effectively with regard to its various agreed Work Programmes on SMEs, sustainability and statistics as well as to explore the ongoing technological developments in the world of government procurement.

According to information posted on the WTO website, the agreed work programmes include:

* a programme to consider best practice with respect to measures and policies that the parties use to support the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in government procurement;

* a programme to promote the use of sustainable procurement practices, consistent with the Agreement;

* a programme on safety standards in international procurement;

* a programme to address restrictions and exclusions in parties' coverage commitments under the Agreement; and

* a programme to enable parties to improve procedures followed in the collection and reporting of statistical data relating to the Agreement.

The parties have also agreed to undertake future work on the following issues, at a time to be determined:

* a review of the use, transparency and the legal frameworks of public-private partnerships, and their relationship to covered procurement;

* the advantages and disadvantages of developing common nomenclature for goods and services; and

* the advantages and disadvantages of developing standardized notices.

At the GPA Committee meeting on 14 March, the European Union invited all Parties, Observers and the WTO Secretariat to participate in a conference on digital transformation on public procurement to be held in Lisbon, Portugal on 18 October 2018.

The Chair suggested that the GPA Committee continue to support and devote attention to overseeing further development of the WTO e-GPA system.

According to trade officials, work in the coming months will focus on the completion of the module for modification of schedules.

This is in order to improve both visibility to the market access provided and efficiency in the modification process.

The next substantive sessions of the GPA Committee are to be held during the week of 25 June 2018.