Procurers need to use the flexibility offered by international trade agreements, instead of perceiving them as a barrier to innovative sustainable procurement, according to a new study released by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The study, Canada’s International Trade Obligations: Barrier or opportunity for sustainable public procurement?, focuses on how and to what extent Canada’s international trade commitments enable the transition towards strategic public procurement. The report looks specifically at the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement (WTO GPA) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

“Sustainable procurement is an important strategic tool that governments can use to drive towards a low-carbon economy,” said Liesbeth Casier, a Policy Analyst with IISD and the report’s author. “But procurers often cite the complexities of international trade agreements and other legal frameworks as a barrier to implementing sustainable procurement.”

The report includes examples of how sustainable public procurement already happens in Canada and in other jurisdictions in a manner compliant with international economic law. It is based on desk research and interviews with Canadian procurers, policy-makers, and international experts.

“Providing more legal certainty about what a procuring authority can do under international trade obligations is one way to address the barriers and enable better use of sustainable procurement,” said Casier.

The report includes recommendations to government stakeholders, including the development of a Procurement Package. This would include a Social Procurement Policy to accompany the already well-established Green Procurement Policy. It would also include:

  • a one-stop shop for questions
  • a learning and sharing platform
  • further professionalization of procurers

The report also recommends:

  • Accelerating the development of a national database on life-cycle assessments.
  • Developing tools that value sustainability tailored to procurers.
  • Implementing sustainable e-procurement.
  • Facilitating sustainable public procurement implementation with innovation brokers.


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