UK businesses stand to lose access to a $1.7 trillion public procurement market if signatories to a World Trade Organization accord this week block Britain’s application for membership, which will lapse after it leaves the European Union in March.
On Nov. 27, the U.K. will seek admission to the 46-nation Government Procurement Agreement in Geneva. Failure to rejoin the pact could prevent U.K. companies from bidding on government contracts in member nations, including the $837 billion U.S. market. Each member has the power to block admittance.
“Going through an accession does mean in theory a country -- any country -- can veto,” the U.K. Ambassador to the WTO Julian Braithwaite told lawmakers in London this month. “If we don’t get their agreement we don’t become a member of the GPA.”
A half dozen nations including the U.S. and Japan blocked a U.K. application last month, with some saying the British offer was based on a set of outdated and incomplete commitments. While all members want to retain access to the U.K.’s 67 billion-pound ($76 billion) marketplace, they’re still willing to use the opportunity to squeeze some concessions, with some eying projects such as Britain’s high-speed railways or a Heathrow airport expansion.
The purpose of the GPA is to open up, in a reciprocal manner, government procurement markets to foreign competition, and help make public purchasing more transparent among the GPA’s members.
British officials argue that the U.K. should receive expedited approval to the accord because it’s already a GPA member by virtue of its status in the EU, and can simply replicate its current commitments without upsetting any trade partners.
But last month, members rejected a separate U.K. bid, with some saying the application simply replicated the terms of the EU’s 2004 GPA. They said the offer didn’t take into account British agencies that have emerged since 2004, like the Department for International Trade and the Department for Exiting the European Union.
Braithwaite said the U.K. has offered to accommodate American demands by revising its schedule -- but only after the U.S. agrees to let the U.K. rejoin the pact. [...]
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