The UK applies formally to join the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement

By Totis Kotsonis , Partner | Eversheds Sutherland

On 1 June the UK applied officially to join the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).

This voluntary plurilateral agreement, within the WTO framework, commits signatory parties to open their public procurement markets to each other’s suppliers on a “no less favourable than domestic suppliers” basis and to comply with a set of rules that promote fairness and transparency in public procurement. GPA parties include, the EU, the United States, Canada, Japan and South Korea. The annual value of procurements opened up to GPA competition has been estimated at US$ 1.7 trillion.

Accession to the GPA is important for UK suppliers as, post-Brexit, and irrespective of any future UK-EU trade arrangements, it will enable continued access to at least some of the procurement markets of EU Member States, and indeed, the procurement markets of all other GPA parties. At the same time, it is important to recognise that access to international procurement markets (including the EU) via the GPA will be more limited than the type of access which UK suppliers currently enjoy in relation to the national procurement markets of EU Member States. This reflects the narrower scope of access arrangements agreed under the GPA.

Although the accession of a new party to the GPA can take many years to complete, the general expectation is that the UK’s application would be approved fairly swiftly. This is on the basis that UK procurement legislation is already compliant with GPA requirements – a key condition for accession – by virtue of the UK implementing into domestic law the (GPA compliant) EU procurement directives.

Equally, in applying to join the GPA, the UK is seeking simply to replicate the EU’s existing commitments under that agreement, so that once it becomes a GPA party in its own right, it will continue to have the same rights and obligations vis-à-vis other GPA parties, as it currently has as an EU Member State.

Accordingly, whether UK GPA accession would be swift, could ultimately depend on the willingness of other GPA parties to agree to this approach. Unfortunately, at this point, the possibility cannot be excluded of one or more parties seeking to vary existing access arrangements to their advantage, and in doing so, potentially delaying agreement on the UK’s accession.

Access to national procurement markets that goes beyond GPA arrangements, can of course be agreed separately, in the context of free trade deals, such as in the case of the EU’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada or the EU’s free trade agreements with Ukraine and South Korea. In the context of any GPA accession negotiations, we would expect that the UK would be seeking to argue the case that once its GPA accession is agreed, on terms which mirror the EU’s current commitments, additional access arrangements may be discussed on a bilateral basis with individual parties in the context of future free trade agreements.

Compliments of Eversheds Sutherland, a member of the EACCNY