The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) enables UK businesses to bid for government contracts in the markets of other GPA parties. It also allows foreign businesses to bid for contracts tendered by UK procuring entities in areas where the government has chosen to open up the market to international competition. There are around £67 billion worth of public sector contracts in the UK every year, and around £1.3 trillion worth of government contracts overseas in a wide range of sectors from large infrastructure to professional and business services.
Access to the GPA post-Brexit
The UK currently participates in the GPA through its EU membership. On 27 February 2019, WTO members confirmed that the UK will join the GPA as an independent member.
The Withdrawal Agreement provides that the UK will remain a member of the GPA under EU schedules throughout the transition period. This would most likely be followed by the UK’s accession as an independent member. However, if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 29 March there is likely to be a delay of around one month, while the necessary accession arrangements are made.
Impact of the potential delay on UK businesses
Government Guidance states that it expects that any delay will be “very short” and the resulting impact on UK businesses will be “minimal”. It also states that in many overseas markets covered by the GPA, UK businesses will be able to continue to access government procurements. During the gap period, UK business will lose legal rights provided by the GPA, although, the Guidance states that in many cases, UK suppliers will have similar rights under the domestic laws of the relevant jurisdiction.