Documents considered by the Committee on 27 February 2019 Contents

10Australia’s accession to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

(a) (b) Cleared from scrutiny

Document details

(a) Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union within the Committee on Government Procurement on the accession of Australia to the Agreement on Government Procurement; (b) Communication: Making Public Procurement work in and for Europe

Legal base

(a) Article 207 (4) TFEU, in conjunction with Article 218(9) TFEU; QMV; (b) —

Department

(a) (b) Cabinet Office

Document Number

(40054), 11926/18 + ADD 1, COM(18) 622; (39116), 13286/17, COM(17) 572

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

10.1In September 2018 the European Commission proposed a Council Decision to approve Australia’s accession to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), following over two years of negotiations.

10.2In a letter to the Committee on 26 September 2018,62 which the Committee has previously considered, the Minister for Implementation at the Cabinet Office (Oliver Dowden MP) informed the Committee that due to the EU Presidency’s tight timetabling to consider the Commission’s proposal for a Council Decision and the fact that Parliament was in recess, it would not be possible to secure the Committee’s clearance on this proposal before the decision on 9 October.

10.3The Minister therefore informed the Committee that the Government intended to override the scrutiny reserve in order to support the proposal, as there was a risk that failure to do so would be perceived as obstructive, and the Government did not wish to appear to be delaying the accession of another country when the UK was itself seeking to accede within a tight timetable. The Committee considered this ministerial correspondence at its meeting on 10 October.

10.4In the Minister’s separate Explanatory Memorandum on the proposal,63 the Minister indicated that Australia’s final offer was acceptable, with Australia agreeing to open up its public and utilities procurement markets to the signatories of the GPA, and vice-versa. The Government’s impact assessment notes that the major identifiable economic benefit may be “new opportunities for UK businesses to win public contracts in Australia which have, prior to Australia’s accession to the GPA, not been as open to UK (and other EU) suppliers” and that “the total potential additional direct business for UK firms might be £151.8—£155.2 million per year”.64 On this basis, the Government supported the proposal.

10.5However, the Minister also noted in his letter that Australia’s coverage was “not complete”, and that the EU had therefore introduced certain specific restrictions from the access to the Union procurement market with respect to Australia as the EU has done in the past for the Parties to the Agreement which offer only partial coverage. The principal restriction proposed was a reservation regarding SMEs similar to that proposed by Australia. However, the Minister added that “the small, limited number and nature of the exclusions from Australia’s coverage offer [were] not significant in the context of the extensive market access commitment made in the final offer”.65

10.6Given that the Decision has now been adopted, and that Committee is conducting its scrutiny of the implications of EU exit for public procurement through the proposed Decision on the UK’s accession to the WTO GPA,66 it is appropriate to clear the proposal for a Decision (document (a)) as well as document b: a Communication on public procurement dating from 2017, which had been held under scrutiny in the absence of more substantive procurement files through which to the implications of Brexit for the sector could be explored.

10.7We have taken note of the Government’s vote in support of Australia’s access to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement. We accept the Minister’s explanation that, due to the tight timings in the Council, and the fact that the Committee was not meeting in the week prior to the Decision being taken, it was not possible to secure clearance or a waiver in sufficient time, as well as his assessment that the UK’s failure to support this decision would potentially have been perceived as obstructive and have negatively impeded the UK’s own efforts to accede to the GPA. On this basis the Minister concluded that it was in the UK’s interest to, exceptionally, override the scrutiny reserve, and wrote to inform the Committee of his intention to do so.

10.8As the Decision was subsequently adopted, in line with the Government position, and our scrutiny of the implications of EU exit for public procurement is now taking place in relation to the UK’s own application to accede to the WTO GPA, we now clear this document (a), along with a separate non-legislative Communication on improving public procurement within Europe (document (b)), from scrutiny.

10.9Nonetheless, we have chosen to report on the proposal in order to place this override of the scrutiny reserve on the record and to emphasise our intention to continue to monitor carefully the importance of the issue of public procurement in the context of EU exit.

Full details of the documents

(a) Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union within the Committee on Government Procurement on the accession of Australia to the Agreement on Government Procurement: (40054), 11926/18 + ADD 1, COM(18) 622; (b) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Making Public Procurement work in and for Europe: (39116), 13286/17, COM(17) 572.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


62 Letter from the Minister to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee (26 September 2018).

63 Explanatory Memorandum from the Government (26 September 2018).

64 Impact Assessment (27 September 2018).

65 Letter from the Minister to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee (26 September 2018).

66 See Fifty-fifth Report HC 301–liv (2017–19), chapter 2 (13 February 2019).




Published: 5 March 2019