At a July 16 meeting of the WTO's Committee on Government Procurement, WTO Members that are parties to this Agreement debated the appointment of Ms Liang-Rong Lin of Taiwan -- or the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei), as it is officially referred to at the WTO -- as the next Chair of the Committee. Hong Kong objected to the appointment; other Members who spoke at the meeting supported it. (China is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement, although it is an observer and has been in the process of joining for a while.)
As set out in the recently released meeting minutes, the current Chair explained the issue of "one party" blocking the consensus for the Taiwanese candidate as follows:
2.1. The Chair recalled that on 28 May 2021, he had organized an informal consultative meeting with Parties to discuss whether the Committee would be in a position to confirm the only remaining candidate from Chinese Taipei as the Committee's next chair. It had become clear during the consultative meeting that one Party had not been able to join the consensus on the remaining candidate and that more time was needed. On 2 June 2021, in the course of the Committee's formal meeting, the objecting Party had reiterated that it remained resolute in its position of not joining a consensus to designate the candidate from Chinese Taipei as the next Committee chair. The other ten Parties that had spoken had expressed their confidence in the process conducted by the Chair to identify candidates and select the next chair, and in the results of that process. They had expressed their regret that the Committee had been unable to reach consensus on selecting the only remaining candidate from Chinese Taipei as the Committee's next chair. Moreover, most of the Parties that had spoken had urged the only objecting Party to reconsider its position and to join a consensus in favour of the appointment of the candidate from Chinese Taipei.
The Chair did not mention Hong Kong at this point, but Hong Kong then offered the following comment:
2.3. The representative of Hong Kong, China said that her delegation had informed the Committee at its previous formal meeting held on 2 June 2021 that Hong Kong, China would not join any consensus to designate the candidate from Chinese Taipei as the next chair of the Committee, although the European Union had withdrawn the candidate it had nominated earlier. She confirmed that Hong Kong, China still did not join the consensus at this stage.
In response, other Members put forward objections to Hong Kong's actions here. The U.S. objection was the strongest:
The representative of the United States expressed her delegation's regret and disappointment that the Committee had not been able to acclaim Ms Liang-Rong Lin as its next chair at this meeting. The United States was particularly disappointed that the Committee on Government Procurement and its longstanding tradition of collegiality had been tainted by the domestic political agenda of those outside the Committee. ... It was highly inappropriate and was not something that had a place in the Committee. WTO chairs were selected and acted in their personal capacity and issues unrelated to their personal capacity should not be injected into the process. The United States also wanted to make it clear that the accession candidates were not entitled to participate in the decision-making process of the Committee. Such intrusion was extremely damaging to the work of the Committee. ...
Other Members offered similar reactions. To take some examples, the European Union said:
... It had heard the statement by Hong Kong, China with regret. In the view of the European Union, the Committee had run through a complete process of consultations that had resulted in one qualified candidate remaining and it did not see the need to restart the process. ...
... Japan believed that there was still time until the next Committee meeting, but disruption of good administration of the Committee should be avoided. To that end, Japan called on Hong Kong, China to reflect on its position and to join the consensus among the Parties.
... It was ... regrettable that the Committee continued to find itself at this impasse. The Committee had important business to be getting on with, as the Chair had identified. The United Kingdom would strongly encourage Hong Kong, China to reconsider its position and to join the consensus to appoint Ms Liang-Rong Lin as the next chair of the Committee. ...
... Australia was disappointed that Hong Kong, China was continuing to block consensus on the only remaining chair candidate and would welcome further explanation of its reasons so that the Parties could discuss and address its concerns constructively to reach consensus. ...
... It was difficult to understand why Parties should not proceed with the selection of the candidate from Chinese Taipei, Ms Liang-Rong Lin, as the next chair of the Committee. Past discussions had demonstrated that she was a solid candidate. Canada regretted that one Party was unable to join consensus to select the only remaining candidate. ...
Hong Kong offered various suggestions for how to proceed, as follows:
2.6. The representative of Hong Kong, China said that in the spirit of constructive engagement, Hong Kong, China wanted to put forward its suggestions on how to take forward the matter. Its suggestions had already been conveyed to the Chair during a bilateral meeting and in writing via an email in early July 2021. Making reference to the established practice of decision-making by consensus, the first suggestion was that the Committee tried to identify and nominate another candidate, on whom a consensus could be forged, to be designated as the next Committee chair. Noting that the current Chair would leave Geneva later in July 2021 and would not be able to continue to serve as the Committee chair upon his departure, Hong Kong, China's second suggestion was to invite the Deputy Director-General or the Division Director responsible for government procurement matters in the WTO Secretariat to stand in as an interim arrangement until the next Committee chair was formally designated. Hong Kong, China noted that a similar interim arrangement had been adopted in other WTO bodies previously. It stood ready to work with other GPA Parties in the coming months to select the next Committee chair in accordance with the long-established WTO tradition of making decisions by Members' consensus.
However, other Members did not react positively, and it is not clear at this point how this situation can be resolved. The WTO's government procurement web page does not indicate any current Chair.
As former WTO official Peter Ungphakorn pointed out, as shown here Taiwanese delegates have chaired other WTO committees. He also said he understood that China's ongoing application process to the Agreement on Government Procurement may have led to additional sensitivity in this case.