Transitioning from the post-2008 financial meltdown to a sustained period of global growth and prosperity involves a major challenge: how to ensure the effective management of international economic interdependence. Trade, growth, good governance and sustainable development constitute essential ingredients to any solution, as is a fairer distribution of the gains of trade. Two issues stand out in this conversation. The first concerns the unfinished business of the global fight against the scourge of poverty, which impacts one region more than most: Africa. At the same time, a key pre-requisite for economic performance - affordable and efficient public infrastructure and services – remains lacking in this region – notably, in Sub-Saharan Africa. To address this, the region itself has initiated a major, long-term, continent-wide infrastructure development programme which is intended to fix this problem sustainably - namely, the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). Its success foreshadows an economic transformation that will potentially usher in an emergent Africa in the 21st century. Secondly, in one area of economic activity – trade in government procurement markets - the revised WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) is emerging as a multi-dimensional tool of trade, governance and development. The thesis of this paper is that GPA participation by African countries - a prospect which, to date, they have declined to take up - holds strong potential to reinforce the positive effects of PIDA and to contribute to the region's growth and development more generally. Developing this thesis, the paper examines the possible application of the GPA to support Africa's infrastructure programme, drawing on its three dimensions of instrument of governance, market access instrument, and 'policy space' instrument in support of the development, financial and trade needs of developing countries. Based on the analysis, the paper concludes that the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs of participation in the GPA by African countries, and, accordingly, that the GPA merits consideration by the region in this regard. A successful implementation of the infrastructure programme also portends a significant expansion in the size of the African government procurement market. Were African countries to accede to the Agreement in this context, it would constitute not only a big rise in membership numbers, but also a significant expansion in the value of market access under the Agreement. The broad outlines of a potential win-win scenario for both African countries and GPA Parties thus begin to emerge. The paper, nonetheless, acknowledges that delivering these benefits would involve significant practical and political challenges. It concludes that if the challenges can be overcome and the mutual benefits delivered, the revised GPA would have been demonstrated as an effective tool for balancing flexibility and reciprocity in the government procurement sector, consistent with sustainable development principles, with the capability to deliver win-win benefits for a broad range of stakeholders, in the post-2015 era.


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  • Published online: 03 Nov 2014
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