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Senior U.S. officials revealed privately in the days prior to the first Strategic and Economic Dialogue (“S&ED”) of the Obama Administration, convening in Washington, D.C. on July 27, 2009, that they planned to ask China to subscribe to the Government Procurement Agreement (“GPA”) of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”). They assigned this quest, they said, a high priority, even as the subject seemed to escape public notice.

China did not begin discussing the GPA at the WTO until December 2007, even though upon its WTO accession in 2001 it was expected to negotiate GPA accession “as soon as possible.” China has sent out officials to study the terms under which other countries have signed the Agreement, and is working on a written proposal that would open its government procurement to foreign enterprises while protecting certain areas of economic activity.

China’s trade partners had attached no particular urgency to China’s GPA accession until the autumn of 2008, when China as well as more developed countries, led by the United States, began committing hundreds of billions of dollars to government expenditure for recovery from a global economic recession. It then became important for manufacturers to gain access to the planned expenditures of foreign governments, and the GPA appeared to be the key to access.
The United States would like its manufacturers to be able to participate in the Chinese Government’s expenditures for recovery and so wants China to sign the GPA. China, of course, would like the same for its manufacturers — to have governments in the United States, Europe, and Japan buy Chinese goods with the funds the governments are spending for recovery. But signing the GPA is not so easy. The signatories have carved out many restrictive exceptions. China does not want to give away more than it gets. In every country, nationalist sentiment clamors for job creation at home, not for government expenditures to buy foreign goods and, hence, to create jobs abroad.

At the very moment, in February 2009, when the United States was asking the world to shun protectionism and recognize that free trade is a necessary element of global recovery, the United States Congress was inscribing in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) a requirement for governments of all levels to “Buy American” when spending $787 billion. The provisions were summarized upon notification to the WTO:

  • Section 604 of the ARRA requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to procure US-manufactured textile and apparel goods, subject to certain exceptions (including non availability, de minimis, purchases outside the United States, and small purchases). This provision becomes effective 180 days after the date of enactment of the ARRA, which was 17 February 2009. Section 604(k) requires DHS to apply the "buy American" provision in a manner consistent with US obligations under international agreements.
  • Section 1605 requires that only US-produced iron, steel and manufactured goods be used in public buildings and public works funded by the ARRA, subject to certain exceptions (public interest, non-availability, or unreasonable cost). Section 1605(d) requires the "buy American" provision be applied in a manner consistent with US obligations under international agreements.

The commitment to apply these restrictions “in a manner consistent with US obligations under international agreements” followed public pledges by the newly inaugurated lawyer-President “that we are going to abide by our World Trade Organization and NAFTA obligations just as we always have.” The President had come under fire from the Government of Canada, in particular, because of the ARRA provisions.

President Obama struggled to minimize the significance of the “Buy American” provisions by emphasizing that they would not alter the American commitment to respect all international obligations. He recognized the importance of not sending a signal of protectionism. He told a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interviewer, “I think that if you look at history one of the most important things during a worldwide recession of the sort that we’re seeing now is that each country does not resort to ‘beggar they neighbor’ policies, protectionist policies, they can end up further contracting world trade.” Yet, he acknowledged, “a lot of governors and mayors are going to want to try to find U.S. equipment or services.”

Provincial premiers and mayors in Canada decided to copy the Buy American provisions, and the protectionist fever that began with the United States, at least symbolically, inevitably spread. The National Development and Reform Commission (“NDRC”) issued on May 27 in China Circular 1361, Opinions on the Implementation of Decisions on Expanding Domestic Demand and Promoting Economic Growth and Further Strengthening Supervision of Tendering and Bidding for Construction Projects. Were the title not to have said it all, a summary might read, “Buy China.” According to the Circular, “Government investment projects that are under government procurement should purchase domestic products, unless these domestic goods, construction engineering or services are not available in China or cannot be acquired on reasonable commercial terms. Projects requiring imported products will need prior approval from relevant government authorities.”

The United States is a signatory to the GPA. China is not. Consequently, Chinese enterprises have no rights of access to government procurement in the United States, nor have U.S companies rights to participate in government procurement in China. Were the congressional objective in the ARRA to keep out China, there was no legislative need for the provision. State and local governments, by international agreement, were free without the legislation to discriminate against Chinese goods. Both countries have included escape clauses — the U.S. in its legislation and China in the non-binding NDRC Circular — requiring goods to be available on “commercial terms” at home before prohibiting imports, but both are structured to spend their stimulus packages to create domestic, not foreign jobs.

The concept of free trade, which President Obama recognized, requires mutual access to government procurement. However, the United States, when it subscribed to the GPA in 1998, attached hundreds of exceptions, including especially total exceptions for thirteen state and local governments and qualified exceptions for most of the other thirty-seven. Exceptions for highway and mass transit funding apply to all fifty states and exceptions for procurement of construction grade steel cover most states. Most of the ARRA expenditures are slated for state and local governments, with an emphasis on infrastructure, so the commitment to abide by international obligations offsets almost not at all the Buy American provisions that are consistent with the restrictive U.S. implementation of the GPA.

Much of China’s recovery expenditures are anticipated to be provincial and local, the likely “relevant government authorities” in Circular 1361. China’s absence from the GPA means foreign enterprises have no rights to government procurement in China, but provincial and local governments could buy from them. Circular 1361 converts the absence of a right into an effective prohibition. China and the United States are closed to each other’s government procurement, with governments retaining considerable discretion to open up as needed.

The ARRA, and Circular 1361, are signals. The U.S. interest in pressing China to sign the GPA will not produce quick or meaningful results as long as the United States sends protectionist signals, and China likely will reveal a competing protectionism unless it believes there will be a reciprocal opening. Despite the U.S. pressure, the two countries only agreed, as to the GPA, to treat all goods manufactured domestically as domestic products, regardless whether there might be foreign ownership — a reaffirmation of current law.  The United States must step beyond assurances about compliance with international obligations and provide examples of a free procurement market; China must make purchases from abroad to enhance domestic stimulus projects. Without such concrete steps, both countries will be sending protectionist signals, and the more they press each other in settings like the S&ED, the more they may harm the cause of free trade. 

Dr. Feldman was quoted recently in a Business Week report on the S&ED.  He also discussed the June 2008 Strategic Economic Dialogue meetings in an interview with CNBC.

                     

            就在奥巴马任期内第一届中美战略与经贸对话即将在美国首都华盛顿召开(7月27日)前夕,美国政府高层官员私下表示他们准备要求中国签署世贸组织复边协定之一《政府采购协定》。这些官员表示虽然这一议题并未充分引起公众重视,但他们把这一议题放在重要位置。

 

            世贸组织成员在2001年、即中国加入世贸组织时就希望中国尽早展开加入《政府采购协定》的谈判,但直到2007年12月中国才开始讨论这一协定。中国派官员研究他国签署这一协定时接受的条件,同时正忙于起草一份既可向外企开放政府采购、又可保护经济活动某些领域的书面建议。

 

            在美国的带领下,中国的贸易伙伴直到2008年秋季才将中国加入《政府采购协定》提升到特别紧迫的地位,因为这时中国以及其他更发达的国家都拨出上百亿复兴资金刺激本国经济发展、希望早日摆脱全球经济衰退。能有机会参与国外政府计划中的开支项目对于生产厂家来说异常重要,而《政府采购协定》是取胜的关键。

 

            美国希望本国企业能有机会参与中国政府为经济复苏制定的采购项目,因此希望中国能签署《政府采购协定》。毫无疑问,中国希望中国企业能获得类似机会,希望美国、欧洲及日本政府能用经济复苏资金购买中国产品。但是签署《政府采购协定》并不容易。签署《政府采购协定》意味着必须放弃许多限制性特例。中国不愿牺牲大于收获。在各个国家,在国家主义的煽动下把工作留在国内的呼声高涨,因此绝不允许把政府开支用于购买外国产品、在国外创造就业机会。

 

            今年二月,就当美国要求全世界回避贸易保护主义、充分认识自由贸易是全球复苏的重要因素时,美国国会却在《2009年美国复苏和再投资法案》中加入条款,要求各级美国政府在使用七千八百七十亿拨款时“购买美国产品”。当美国政府向世贸组织汇报时,这些条款被概括如下:

 

——《美国复苏和再投资法案》第604条规定美国国土安全部必须购买美国生产的纺织和服装产品,以下特例除外(无法获取、美国产量极其微小、美国境外购买及小批量购买)。这一条款将在法案生效日——2009年2月17日后第180天生效。第604条第k款要求美国国土安全部在执行“购买美国产品”条款的同时履行根据国际协定美国应当承担的职责。

——第605条要求除特殊情况外,用复苏法案资金兴建的公众建筑和公共设施必须使用美国生产的钢铁产品及其它产品。第605条第d款要求“购买美国产品”条款必须履行国际协定下美国应当承担的职责。

 

            除保证“履行国际协定下美国应当承担的职责”外,律师出生、新就任的美国总统也公开承诺“我们将一如既往地遵循世贸组织和北美自由贸易协定职责。”因为《美国复苏和再投资法案》条款,奥巴马总统面临加拿大政府猛烈的炮火攻击。

 

            奥巴马总统努力降低“购买美国产品”条款的重要性,他强调这些条款不会影响美国履行国际职责的决心。他充分认识到避免发出贸易保护主义信号的重要性。他在接受加拿大广播公司采访时说道:“回顾历史,我认为在当前这种全球经济低迷的情况下,最重要的事是每个国家都应避免实施‘向邻居求救’的政策和保护主义政策,这些政策只会进一步损害国际贸易。”但同时他也承认,“许多州长和市长正努力寻找美国产品或服务。”

 

            加拿大的省长市长们决定模仿购买美国产品条款,于是从美国开始的贸易保护热潮不可避免地,至少象征性地,开始蔓延。中国国家发展改革委员会在5月27日发布了2009年第1361号发改法规《关于印发贯彻落实扩大内需促进经济增长决策部署           进一步加强工程建设招标投标监管工作意见的通知》。如果这一标题还不够明确,那么这一标题可概括为“购买中国产品”。这一法规规定“政府投资项目属于政府采购的,除需要采购的工程、货物或者服务在中国境内无法获取或者无法以合理的商业条件获取等法定情形外,应当采购本国产品。确需采购进口产品的,必须在采购活动开展前,按照国家规定报经有关部门审核同意。”

 

            美国是《政府采购协定》签署国之一。中国却不是。因此,中国企业无权参与美国政府采购项目,同时美国企业也无权参与中国政府采购项目。如果美国国会《美国复苏和再投资法案》的目的是为了将中国排除在外,这些条款没有立法必要。根据国际协定,即使没有这些条款,美国州及地方政府也可以歧视中国产品。两国同时都为自己留了些余地——美国的法案和中国发改委法规——要求除非无法在国内通过“商业手段”获得产品才可禁止进口,但是两国的经济刺激方案都旨在创造本国就业机会,而不是在国外创造就业机会。

 

            自由贸易这一已被奥巴马总统认可的概念要求双方都有机会参与政府采购。但是,当美国在1998年签署《政府采购协定》时,附加了上百款不受限制条款:13个州及地方政府完全排除在外,其他37个州及地方政府在符合条件的情况下可被排除在外。50个州的高速公路及公共交通设施建设项目都被排除在外,大多数州的建筑级钢铁采购项目也被排除在外。绝大多数《美国复苏和再投资法案》的投资项目都归州及地方政府管辖,且侧重于基础设施建设,因此“购买美国产品”条款符合美国签署的有限履行《政府采购协定》的协议,履行国际承诺并未抵消这些条款的负面影响。

 

            预计中国用于刺激经济复苏的政府开支将大都由省和地方政府负责,即1361号法规中所指的“有关政府部门”。中国尚未签署《政府采购协定》意味着国外企业没有机会参与中央政府的采购项目,但是省和地方政府却可向国外企业购买。1361号法规把一项没有提及的权力变成禁止范围。中国和美国同时被排除在对方政府采购项目之外,但同时两国政府都拥有开放这一市场的操纵权。

 

            《美国复苏和再投资法案》和1361号法规都是信号。如果美国继续发出贸易保护主义信号,美国向中国施压、希望中国早日签署《政府采购协定》不会很快产生有意义的结果。除非中国相信对等开放即将到来,中国很可能宣布新的保护主义。撇开美国压力不谈,两国只就《政府采购协定》做出以下承诺:在本国生产的产品都被视为本国产品,不管企业是否为外资所有——这再次强调了现行法律。美国除承诺履行国际职责外必须再跨出一步,提供自由政府采购市场的实例;中国则必须从海外市场采购以进一步发展本国经济刺激项目。没有这些切实的举动,两国只会发出贸易保护主义信号,而且双方越是在中美战略与经贸对话这样的场合向对方施压,只会更加危害自由贸易。

 

            最近《商业周刊》杂志就中美战略与经贸对话采访了费德门博士。去年6月他也就这一会议接受了CNBC电视台的采访。