WTO GPA Update #12: Britain Set to Join GPA

In an October 2020 meeting, the parties to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) invited the United Kingdom to take the final steps to become a party to the Agreement in its own right in 2021. This post reviews Britain’s accession to the GPA and its significance for access to the U.S. procurement market if the Trump administration continues to insist on excluding procurement from a bilateral trade agreement. It also looks at Brazil’s forward steps on its own accession to the GPA. 

Following its decision to exit the EU, the UK applied for membership in the GPA “in its own right” in June 2018. The WTO procurement committee approved the terms of Britain accession in February 2019, including its replication of the procurement that it covers under the GPA as a EU member state,  noting that it would be covered by the GPA as an EU member state until its withdrawal from the EU or the expiration of any transition period. On January 31, 2020, the UK left the EU and entered into a transition period that is set to expire on December 31, 2020.

The October decision authorizes Britain to submit its instrument of accession to the GPA “no earlier than thirty days” before the expiration of the transition period. That means the UK can submit its instrument in December 2020 and become a GPA party on January 1, 2021, so there would be no gap in its coverage under the GPA. When Britain becomes an independent GPA party in 2021, it will regain the status it enjoyed as a signatory of the 1994 GPA.

According to the UK, its GPA market access offer is valued at £68 billion ($88 billion), representing the second largest coverage of procurement under the GPA. Currently, UK procurement accounts for a quarter of EU procurement covered under the Agreement. The UK will update its GPA schedule of commitments within three months of becoming a GPA party.

The UK’s membership in its own right in the GPA will be essential for it to maintain access to the U.S. procurement market since it cannot count on a free trade agreement (FTA) to provide such access. The Trump administration wants to exclude government procurement from FTA negotiations with Britain, even though U.S. negotiating objectives include government procurement. Its procurement objectives mirror U.S. goals for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other FTAs, covering both market access and text. If the U.S. were successful in excluding procurement from an FTA with Britain, Canada’s exclusion from the government procurement chapter of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement could become the standard rather than an aberration in FTAs negotiated by the Trump administration.

In another accession development, Brazil followed its May 2020 application to join the GPA with the submission of its replies to a checklist of issues on its government procurement system, including its procurement laws and regulations. It also informed the committee that it anticipates submitting its initial market access offer by the end of 2020. Brazil is the first Latin American country to seek membership in the plurilateral agreement.

In other GPA developments, Côte d’Ivoire became an observer to the procurement committee in July, the third African country to do so – after Cameroon and the Seychelles. Côte d’Ivoire wants to bring its public procurement system in line with international standards and promote transparent and equitable procedures in the country. The Seychelles is the only African country to commit to seek GPA membership as part of its terms for joining the WTO.

Jean Heilman Grier

October 13, 2020

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