ITA, GPA Processes Aim for Bali Ministerial Outcome

17 October 2013

Members working to expand the coverage of the WTO's plurilateral deal on trade in information and communication technology products are set to resume their negotiations next week, following a three-month suspension. Meanwhile, efforts to ratify the global trade body's revised agreement on government procurement - another plurilateral - in time for the WTO's December ministerial conference continue underway, sources say.

ITA talks to resume next week

The group working to expand the product coverage of the WTO's Information Technology Agreement (ITA) is set to resume talks at the bilateral level next week, sources confirmed to Bridges. The talks to update the plurilateral pact's coverage had been suspended in July, due to a disagreement between China and some of the initiative's participants over which products to exclude from the new list.

At this month's meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders, also held in Bali, officials confirmed that the disagreement with China had been resolved, and that negotiations would now proceed with an eye to completing the talks by the upcoming ministerial in Bali. (See Bridges Weekly, 10 October 2013)

The original ITA entered into force in 1996. Since last year, a subset of the group's participants have been working to develop a list of new products to add to the agreement's coverage in order to reflect the changes in world trade over the past two decades.

GPA: Push to ratify 2011 revisions by Bali

Parties to the WTO's Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) said last week that they hope to reach a "critical mass" that would allow them to bring the revised version of the plurilateral pact into force by December.

The agreement commits members to certain core disciplines regarding transparency, competition, and good governance, covering the procurement of goods, services, and capital infrastructure by public authorities.

The GPA's 42 parties finished negotiating a series of revisions to the pact just minutes before the global trade body began its last ministerial conference, which was held in Geneva in December 2011. (See Bridges Daily Update #2, 16 December 2011)

However, for the new GPA to enter into force, a critical mass - in this case, two-thirds of the current membership - must ratify the revised agreement. To date, Liechtenstein is the only GPA member to have done so. (See Bridges Weekly, 8 May 2013)

At last week's meeting of the committee tasked with administering the agreement, five of the committee's fifteen members - Canada, the EU, Hong Kong, Norway, and the US - have said that they can complete the ratification process in time for the December conference.

Two others - Japan and Switzerland - have said that they cannot complete their domestic processes in time for Bali, sources familiar with the meeting confirmed to Bridges. Others, meanwhile, were reportedly unable to commit to a date at that time.

Parties to the GPA are also hoping to add new members to their ranks, with Beijing slated to submit a new offer for joining the GPA - its fourth - by the end of the year. Ukraine is also expected to submit a revised version of its offer in December, though whether either joins the pact will depend on the approval of current members.

New Zealand recently submitted its first revision to its original offer, though parties have asked for additional improvements. Wellington has said that acceding to the GPA by Bali is a "demanding" deadline, sources say.

ICTSD reporting.

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