Why is entering into multiple procurement-related free trade agreements problematic?

by Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation

Banana stem cross section. Photo Credit: Ian Jacobs

Post-Brexit, the UK has been repositioning itself in the global trade scene. Focusing on trade-related public procurement liberalisation, the first two moves for the UK were: one, to join the World Trade Agreement Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), of which it had been a member via the EU, and two, to enter into a comprehensive procurement chapter with the EU in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). As a result of these two moves, the UK largely consolidated the pre-Brexit status quo and ensured continuity in market access for UK suppliers abroad, as well as foreign suppliers in the UK.

The next move is now for the UK to expand procurement-related trade liberalisation via free trade agreements (FTAs), of which it has signed one with Australia and another with New Zealand. The UK is also seeking accession to other multilateral FTAs covering procurement, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Interestingly, both Australia and New Zealand are parties to the GPA and to the CPTPP, so the UK is about to create a triple layer of regulation of procurement liberalisation with these two countries, as all relevant procurement exercises will be subjected to the GPA, the CPTPP and the FTAs. Is this a problematic strategy? (more…)

Can artificial intelligence bring corruption in public procurement to an end?

By Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation (University of Bristol Law School)

Preventing, detecting, and sanctioning corruption in public procurement is one of the main goals of all systems of regulation applicable to the expenditure of public funds via contract (see eg Williams-Elegbe, 2012). Despite constant and regularly renewed efforts to fight procurement corruption at an international (such as the UN Convention against Corruption, or the 2016 OECD’s Preventing Corruption in Public Procurement report) and domestic level (see eg the UK’s 2020 ‘Local government procurement: fraud and corruption risk review’), corruption remains a pervasive problem in any given jurisdiction. Of course, there are different forms and degrees of corruption infiltration in different procurement systems but – if any evidence was needed that no system is corruption-free – pandemic-related procurement served as a clear reminder that this is the case (see eg Transparency International, 2021; as well as Good Law Project v Cabinet Office [2021] EWHC 1569 (TCC)). It should then not be surprising that the possibility that artificial intelligence (AI) could ‘change the rules of the game’ (eg Santiso, 2019) and bring procurement corruption to an end is receiving significant attention. In a recent paper*, I critically assess the contribution that AI can make to anti-corruption efforts in the public procurement context and find that, while it could make a positive incremental contribution, it will not transform this area of regulation and, in any case, AI’s potential is significantly constrained by existing data architectures and due process requirements.  (more…)

Why the proposed post-Brexit procurement reform may not achieve the transformation it intends

By Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells (University of Bristol Law School).

Until recently, public procurement law and practice have rarely been at the forefront of public and political debates. The UK government’s procurement reaction to the pandemic continues to generate scathing reports—such as the most recent one on PPE procurement by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee—and the emerging lessons show the need to strengthen this area of public governance. Against this background, it is timely to reflect on the government’s recent proposals to reform public procurement law in the Green Paper ‘Transforming Public Procurement’. (more…)