The WTO Committee on Government Procurement will initiate work programs to address issues not resolved in the recent negotiations to revise the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.
In December 2012, when the United States and the other Parties to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) concluded their decade-long negotiations on the revision of the GPA, they left some unresolved issues on the table. To address those issues, they committed to undertake an ambitious set of work programs as soon as they implement the revised GPA. The Parties incorporated the five work programs into the package in which they approved the revision of the GPA.
Accordingly, the WTO Committee on Government Procurement, which is made up of the GPA Parties, will initiate the work programs at its first meeting following the entry into force of the revised GPA:
- Work Program on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): With the SMEs work program, the Parties are seeking ways to increase the participation of small businesses in government procurement. To that end, they set out three elements in the work program on SMEs. First, the GPA Parties that maintain SME provisions in their GPA commitments, which includes the United States with its exclusion of small business set-asides, must submit notifications that fully describe their provisions. Second, the Committee will conduct a survey and identify the best practices used by the Parties to promote and facilitate SME participation in government procurement. In the third element of the work plan, the Parties will encourage the elimination of measures that discriminate against SMEs of other GPA Parties, or at least application of such measures to their SMEs.
- Work Program on the Collection and Reporting of Statistical Data: With the statistical data work program, the Parties intend to address a long-standing challenge – how to collect government procurement data, in particular, data that show the amount of goods and services that Parties purchase from one another. Without reliable statistical data, they are unable to determine the extent to which their suppliers are successful in winning contracts in other GPA markets. Moreover, the Parties recognize that such data could be a valuable tool in encouraging other WTO Members to join the Agreement. After reviewing the Parties’ collection and reporting of statistical data, the Committee will make recommendations that include how to facilitate collection of “country of origin of goods and services covered by the Agreement.”
- Work Program on Sustainable Procurement: While several Parties have sustainable procurement policies, the GPA Parties have yet to address such policies in relation to the GPA. As a consequence, under the sustainable procurement work program, the Committee will examine topics that include the objectives of sustainable procurement and how to integrate the concept of sustainable procurement into procurement policies and apply it consistent with the principle of “best value for money,” as well as with international trade obligations. The Committee will report on the best practices of such measures and policies.
- Work Program on Exclusions and Restrictions in Parties’ Annexes: The GPA Parties include a broad range of exclusions and restrictions in their coverage commitments under the Agreement. Some are party-specific, such as the EU’s exclusion of the United States from most of its utilities’ procurement. Others apply to all Parties, such as exclusions of procurement of agricultural products for school lunch programs. With the work program, the Parties are seeking to bring greater transparency to the exclusions and restrictions and to exchange information that would facilitate future negotiations aimed at reducing and eliminating such measures.
- Work Program on Safety Standards in International Procurement: With this work program, the Parties recognize the need to balance measures that are aimed at protecting public safety with the GPA obligation to avoid unnecessary obstacles to trade in preparing technical specifications. Accordingly, the Committee will examine how Parties’ legal measures and practices address public safety concerns in relation to their implementation of the GPA. It will also develop best practices for protecting public safety that are consistent with the GPA’s provisions on technical specifications.
With the work programs, the Parties have established a structure for taking up issues not resolved during the negotiations on the revision of the GPA, as well as new issues such as sustainable procurement. They have indicated the importance of the five work programs by committing to initiate all of them as soon as they implement the revised GPA.
Jean Heilman Grier
November 18, 2013