UNDERSTANDING THE WTO:
Plurilaterals: of minority interest
For the most part, all WTO members subscribe to all WTO agreements. After the Uruguay Round, however, there remained four agreements, originally negotiated in the Tokyo Round, which had a narrower group of signatories and are known as “plurilateral agreements”. All other Tokyo Round agreements became multilateral obligations (i.e. obligations for all WTO members) when the World Trade Organization was established in 1995. The four were:
The bovine meat and dairy agreements were terminated in 1997.
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Fair trade in civil aircraft
The Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft entered into force on 1 January 1980. It now has signatories. The agreement eliminates import duties on all aircraft, other than military aircraft, as well as on all other products covered by the agreement — civil aircraft engines and their parts and components, all components and sub-assemblies of civil aircraft, and flight simulators and their parts and components. It contains disciplines on government-directed procurement of civil aircraft and inducements to purchase, as well as on government financial support for the civil aircraft sector.
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Government procurement: opening up for competition
In most countries the government, and the agencies it controls, are together the biggest purchasers of goods of all kinds, ranging from basic commodities to high-technology equipment. They also buy large amounts of services and construction services, such as telecommunications, roads, airports and power stations, etc. Having in place a sound public procurement system based on principles of transparency, integrity and competition is vital in order to maximize the benefit arising from the procurement for citizens and businesses alike. At the same time, the political pressure to favour domestic suppliers over their foreign competitors can be very strong.
An Agreement on Government Procurement was first negotiated during the Tokyo Round and entered into force on 1 January 1981. Its purpose is to open up as much of this business as possible to international competition. It is designed to make laws, regulations, procedures and practices regarding government procurement more transparent and to ensure they do not discriminate against foreign products or suppliers. During the Uruguay Round and later in parallel with the Doha Round, the Agreement was revised twice through negotiations among its signatories. Its latest version came into force on 6 April 2014.
The Agreement has two elements — general rules and obligations, and schedules of each participant's entities, whose procurements of listed goods, services and construction services are subject to the agreement if they exceed the threshold levels indicated in the schedules. The general rules and obligations mainly concern tendering procedures. They have evolved through different versions of the Agreement to enhance fair and non-discriminatory conditions of international competition and to reflect new developments in the procurement field, e.g. the wide use of electronic means in tendering. Governments are also required to put in place domestic procedures by which aggrieved private bidders can challenge procurement decisions and obtain redress in the event such decisions were made inconsistently with the rules of the agreement. The coverage schedules contained in the Agreement have expanded from central government entities to sub-central entities, public utilities and state-owned enterprises, and from goods to services and all types of construction services.
At present, the Agreement has parties comprising WTO members. Another WTO members participate in the GPA Committee as observers. Out of these, members are in the process of acceding to the Agreement.
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Dairy and bovine meat agreements: ended in 1997
The International Dairy Agreement and International Bovine Meat Agreement were scrapped at the end of 1997. Countries that had signed the agreements decided that the sectors were better handled under the Agriculture and Sanitary and Phytosanitary agreements. Some aspects of their work had been handicapped by the small number of signatories. For example, some major exporters of dairy products did not sign the Dairy Agreement, and the attempt to cooperate on minimum prices therefore failed — minimum pricing was suspended in 1995.