International Trade: Government Procurement Agreements Contain Similar Provisions, but Market Access Commitments Vary

GAO-16-727 Published: Sep 27, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2016.
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Fast Facts

Tapping into a ~$4 trillion global government market for goods and services

The United States and other countries have signed on to the World Trade Organization's Government Procurement Agreement and 20 free trade agreements that could allow suppliers to compete worldwide for government businesses.

We compared the relevant provisions of 6 major trade agreements and found that they generally require trading partners to be on the same page about transparency, procedures, and decision-making in government purchasing. The WTO agreement also generally provides more access to government markets than the other trade agreements we reviewed.



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What GAO Found

GAO found that the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) and selected U.S. free trade agreements' (FTA) government procurement chapters that GAO reviewed generally have similarities in text, and commitments, potentially because parties negotiated multiple agreements concurrently (see fig.). Each of the agreements outlines the general method for conducting government procurement, including provisions relating to transparency, procurement procedures, and criteria for procurement decisions. However, differences exist, partially because later agreements reflect new technology.

Timeline of the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Government Procurement and Selected Free Trade Agreements (FTA) Negotiations

Timeline of the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Government Procurement and Selected Free Trade Agreements (FTA) Negotiations


The 2014 revised GPA generally provides more comprehensive market access than the selected FTAs GAO reviewed. Partners define the degree to which they will open their procurement markets to suppliers from other countries, known as their market access commitments. These commitments outline the entities covered by the agreements, for example, at the central and subcentral government levels (for the United States, these include agencies of the federal government and states), and for what some agreements term “other entities” (which, for the United States, includes utilities). The United States covers 85 central government entities under the revised GPA, but only 53 entities under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Similarly, the United States covers 37 states under its GPA commitments and from no states to 30 in the FTAs GAO reviewed. While all the top five GPA parties GAO reviewed cover some subcentral government entities, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea do not have a subcentral government entity coverage schedule in their FTA commitments. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), parties have certain procurements that they deem sensitive and do not want to open to foreign suppliers, including for social or policy reason. In the agreements GAO reviewed, the U.S.'s trading partners often exclude agriculture, military support, and motor vehicles from their market access commitments.

Why GAO Did This Study

The United States and other countries have made commitments under the WTO's GPA and FTAs that open their government procurement to foreign suppliers. Under these commitments, parties agree to a procedural framework for government procurement with provisions on issues such as transparency and nondiscrimination. These commitments have potentially opened an estimated $4.4 trillion government procurement market to international firms, providing numerous new opportunities for American businesses in foreign markets and for foreign businesses to compete for U.S. government contracts.

As part of your larger request for information on U.S. participation in international procurement agreements, GAO reviewed commitments made by the United States and trading partners in selected international procurement agreements. This report provides information on (1) the provisions and (2) the market access schedules of the selected international procurement agreements. GAO reviewed the provisions and market access schedules across six agreements involving the largest government procurement markets to identify common features and variations. The agreements are the 1994 GPA and the 2014 revised GPA, NAFTA, the South Korea-FTA, the Colombia-FTA, and the Australia-FTA. GAO analyzed WTO and U.S. documents pertaining to the GPA and U.S. FTAs and interviewed USTR and the Department of Commerce agency officials in Washington, D.C.

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