As we reported here and here, there has been a debate over the appointment of a Taiwanese delegate as chair of the WTO's Government Procurement Committee, with most parties to the agreement in favor of the appointment, but Hong Kong blocking consensus. The division continues at this Committee, as the GPA parties have not been able to reach a consensus. The issue has also been raised at the General Council. The minutes of the July 27-28 General Council meeting, which have just recently been made public, illustrate the differing views of various WTO Members (see paras. 21.1.-21.23).
The item was put on the agenda at the request of Japan "on behalf of a number of Members." Kicking off the discussion was the United Kingdom, which set out the background information on the issue, and then concluded with the following statement:
In order to avoid further disruption to the Committee's work and schedule we, as existing GPA Parties, believe that all GPA Parties should come together to ensure a smooth transition of the chairmanship. We urge Hong Kong, China – a WTO Member, and GPA Party that we consider has long played a central and constructive role in the GPA Committee, including as one of the first ever Committee Chairs - to reconsider its position. We urge Hong Kong, China to join consensus to appoint the only remaining candidate as the next Chair of the GPA Committee.
Japan later said it "echoes the statements made by the United Kingdom and reiterates the content of the statement," and "would like to urge Hong Kong, China, to reconsider its position and join the consensus as soon as possible."
Switzerland made the following statement along the same lines: "Switzerland would therefore like to invite the party to the GPA opposing the consensus to take this into consideration and to reassess the situation. We hope that a consensus can be reached as soon as possible in order to ensure the proper functioning of this Committee."
And Israel said: "Israel regrets that the Committee was not able to reach a consensus on the next GPA Chair, although it had conducted a complete consultative process which was supported by almost all Members. Israel attaches great importance to the GPA and believes it is imperative for all GPA Parties to select a Chair as soon as possible by consensus."
China, which is not a GPA party itself, offered its views on this issue, including the following:
21.9. Regarding the specific issue of the GPA Chair selection, I would like to take this opportunity to underscore the following points. First, as a plurilateral agreement under the WTO framework, the GPA Chair is selected only by GPA Parties. China, as an observer to the GPA, fully respects the GPA Chair selection process and outcome and has no intention to interfere. Second, any Member, including China, has the right to express its concern and sensitivities. Among those practices and guidelines regarding the Chair selection of WTO bodies, one guiding principle is to respect Members' sensitivities. Though the GPA Committee is a plurilateral agreement committee, it is still under the WTO framework. If any decision made in the GPA will have spill overs on non-parties' sensitivities, the GPA Parties should also follow the above-mentioned guidelines and give attention and respect on such sensitivities of non-Parties.
21.10. We regret that the GPA Committee has not been able to select a new Chair. We noted that in order to solve the GPA Chair selection impasse, one GPA party has already submitted two specific proposals trying to find a solution and other parties have also actively coordinated among Parties to seek a way out. We appreciate the great efforts made by those Parties. As China is at a critical stage of joining the GPA, we hope that all GPA parties could demonstrate flexibility, seek a solution in a pragmatic manner and solve the Chair selection impasse as soon as possible through consensus, with the aim of ensuring the proper functioning of the GPA and promoting the accession of other Members, including China, to the GPA.
And Hong Kong, the GPA party blocking consensus, weighed in with the following:
21.14. I would thank the United Kingdom and other proponents of this agenda item for sharing with us their observations and views relating to the matter of chairmanship of the Committee on Government Procurement. Early this year, when we learned that there is a need to select a new CGP Chair because the then incumbent Chair was leaving Geneva this summer, I personally met with the two candidates to discuss their candidacies. After thorough internal deliberations, Hong Kong, China informed the Committee Chair during the first round of consultations that we would only support the EU candidate as the next Chair and would object to the Chinese Taipei candidate. Although the EU candidate subsequently withdrew from the race, we informed the Chair before the informal consultative meeting held in late May that we were unable to join any consensus to designate the Chinese Taipei candidate as the next Committee Chair. We have explained to all GPA Parties at a formal CGP meeting in June that Hong Kong, China's position was formulated with the WTO's broader interests in mind.
21.15. Let me explain. The Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) is a plurilateral agreement. Hong Kong, China, as a GPA Party, has all along been actively engaged in the businesses of the CGP and always has the best interests of the GPA at heart. Hong Kong, China does not support designating the Chinese Taipei candidate as the next Committee Chair because we believe this proposal will not be conducive to advancing the various work programmes of the CGP and the accession of new GPA Parties. GPA Parties may recall that this is not the first time Hong Kong, China does not follow the herd. A few years ago, when a Member had to seek a separate membership in the GPA as it was leaving a regional trade group, Hong Kong, China was the first to lend our strong support to that Member, notwithstanding the different views held by some other GPA parties. Back then as in the present case, Hong Kong, China's position is formulated based on our strong belief that smooth and early accession of interested economies, big or small, is in line with the interests of all existing and potential GPA Parties.
21.16. There is also a broader consideration – we note there has been a much better working environment in the WTO since the appointment of the new Director-General early this year, and Members have been working earnestly on various fronts since then to pursue progress and deliverables by MC12. We strongly believe that we should strive to avoid introducing further divisions and unnecessary conflicts among Members at this critical time, which would inevitably distract us from our on-going efforts in the WTO. In the spirit of constructive engagement, Hong Kong, China has suggested to other GPA Parties earlier this month that we should try to identify another candidate on whom a consensus can be forged as the next Committee Chair, and invite the Deputy Director-General or the Division Director responsible for government procurement matters to stand in as an interim arrangement until the next Committee Chair is designated. Unfortunately, both suggestions were rejected by other GPA Parties without much discussion. Hong Kong, China all along upholds WTO's long-established and important principle of making decisions by consensus. Although Hong Kong, China may be holding a minority view in this matter, we believe it is WTO's core value that even minority view should be respected. We will not accept other GPA Parties imposing their preferences on us, doing so would mean yielding to the notion that a small economy's view is unimportant and that it should just step aside when its views are at odds with those of bigger players. Hong Kong, China stands ready to work with other GPA Parties in the coming months to select the next Committee Chair in accordance with WTO's long-established tradition of making decisions by consensus.
The United States then pushed back on the statements of both China and Hong Kong:
I do not necessarily believe that we, as Members, need to take non-Members' interest into account in this type of decision. I do want to push back on that. I also want to point out with deep sadness the comments that were made by Hong Kong, China, basing their decision with the WTO's broader interest in mind. It is unclear to us whether or not we have any common interest. That is extremely disappointing. I don't know what those broader interests are, but this definitely speaks volumes about where we are as a membership.
And finally, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) spoke last, offering the following comment:
My delegation thanks those Members having taken floor on this agenda item and thanks China and Hong Kong, China for their statements. Frankly, on the sensitivity issue raised by China and on the issue of being not conducive to the work programs raised by Hong Kong, China, we have difficulty of understanding the meaning of these. If it is about the impartiality of the candidate, we must emphasize that no matter which Party takes the chairmanship, he or she needs to be neutral and impartial. China and Hong Kong, China can be assured of this from our delegation. As our candidate has indicated in her presentation to the Parties, if elected as the Committee's Chair, she will perform her duties in a fair, impartial and transparent manner. We sincerely hope that Hong Kong, China can reconsider its position and join the consensus on the election of new chairperson for the Committee.