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China will shore up efforts to enhance market regulation and expand market access in a bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), a senior official in Shanghai said yesterday.

The GPA provides a legal framework based on transparency of procedures and equal treatment for government purchase. It is optional for members of the WTO and China made its initial offer to join the GPA at the end of last year.

"China has been carrying out various reforms to improve market transparency and efficiency to establish a procurement regime in the past five years," Zhan Jingtao, director general of Treasury Department at the Ministry of Finance, said at the EU-China Conference on Government Procurement. "We have issued a law on government procurement to prepare for joining the GPA,"

But Zhan declined to set a time frame for China to join the GPA, which so far remains a club for rich countries such as the EU members, the United States and Japan.

On December 28, China formally made its initial offer to join the GPA, marking the start of the negotiating process with the other signatories to the agreement.

Bertrand Carsin, director of Public Procurement Policy at the Directorate-General for Internal Market and Services of the European Commission, said China's initial offer to join the GPA demonstrated its commitment to further integrate into the world trading system.

"The European Union is committed to the dialogue with China on government procurement and regulatory cooperation," Carsin said. "We are prepared to consider requests for transitional measures to reflect the difficulties that China faces."

He said one third of tender bids in the EU procurement market were made by foreign companies through their local subsidiaries in other member states and that the agreement served as a link between an open and transparent procurement regime and government savings.

The total value of government procurement in China exceeded 400 billion yuan (US$57.1 billion) last year, compared with 368.1 billion yuan in 2006 and 165.9 billion yuan in 2005.

The WTO Agreement on Government Procurement is a set of rules that aims to ensure that the laws, regulations and procedures of its signatories are transparent and fair and do not discriminate against goods, services and supplies of the other signatories.

Eight other WTO members in addition to China are in the process of acceding to the agreement and Jordan was likely to become the first developing country to join the GPA.

(Shanghai Daily April 29, 2008)

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