The United States and the European Union (EU) are teaming up on a green public procurement initiative. As two leading parties to the plurilateral WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), their joint action could have a significant motivating effect on stalled work on sustainability in the WTO procurement committee. This post looks at the new US-EU initiative and how it could advance work in the WTO committee.

The US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) adopted a work program to advance their Transatlantic Initiative on Sustainable Trade at their fourth meeting at the end of May. That Initiative, adopted in December 2022, covers government procurement and a range of other practices that could impact the environment.

The work program includes two commitments on green public procurement. First, the two trading partners will publish jointly a catalog of best practices on green procurement -- as soon as this summer. The aim of the catalog is to exchange experiences and promote a shared understanding on sustainability considerations in public procurement across contracting authorities. Their objective is "to pave the way for better policies and practices for environmental considerations in government procurement that can make a substantive positive impact" on achieving their common environmental goals.

The second procurement commitment is to launch a joint EU-US initiative on green public procurement policies at their fifth TTC meeting in approximately six months. It will be based on the joint catalog of best practices (and following stakeholders’ consultation). Its aim is to deepen the shared aims of their respective public procurement approaches to help them realize their climate ambitions.

Joint action by the US and the EU on green procurement could provide a major impetus for related work in the WTO. When the GPA parties revised the agreement in 2012, they included a requirement that that the WTO procurement committee adopt a work program to support the use of sustainable procurement practices. The committee duly established the work program in 2014 when GPA 2012 entered into force. The mandate for the work program required the committee to examine the objectives of sustainable procurement, the integration of that concept into national and subnational procurement policies, and how it can be practiced consistently with the ‘best value for money’ principle and international trade obligations. It also directed the committee to prepare a report on best practices. To date, the committee has not issued any report or recommendations on sustainable procurement.

When the G7 leaders met in May in Hiroshima, Japan, they adopted the G7 Clean Energy Economy Action Plan to address the climate crisis and accelerate the global clean energy transition. In promoting clean energy technologies, they promised to “lead by example through public procurement to catalyze sustainable supply chains.” This important commitment did not specify any concrete procurement measures.

Thus, the US and EU have the potential to demonstrate how governments can "lead by example" in developing procurement policies and practices that make significant contributions to the climate crisis. The test of the US-EU green procurement initiative will be whether it leads to concrete actions that serve as a model for other countries, both inside and outside the GPA.

Jean Heilman Grier

June 15, 2023

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