Does the WTO Government Procurement Agreement Influence Steel Imports?

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Abstract: Purpose - Government procurement policies containing domestic content requirements have faced increasing attention, as more traditional forms of trade discrimination have declined in recent decades. The most important effort to reduce discriminatory government procurement policies is the plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), in which a subset of WTO countries has agreed to provide increased access to imports from fellow signatory countries. This paper focuses on the Buy American policy, which mandates domestic content for all US Federal government purchase above the micro-purchase level. The author tests whether steel imports from GPA and US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners, both of which receive preferential access to US federal procurements, increase as the value of federal construction contracts rise. Design/methodology/approach - The author tracks federal construction contracts and seeks to determine whether there is a link between these contracts and construction grade steel imports from GPA and US FTA members. The author uses two-stage least squares to regress the import quantity of steel from GPA and US FTA countries on the value of US federal construction contracts. Imported and domestic steel prices as well as macroeconomic variables such as industrial production and non-residential construction are controlled for. A panel data set is used that includes three different construction-grade steel products and covers years 2004-2013. Findings - The results indicate that increased federal construction contracts increase imports of construction-grade steel from GPA and FTA partners. This effect is relatively small, however, which may be due to the fact that federal construction is a small share of overall US construction. In general, the results suggest that the primary determinant of US import sourcing behavior is the business cycle as well as the price of steel. Nevertheless, the findings indicate that the preferences provided by the GPA and FTAs do have some impact on where US construction firms source their steel. Originality/value - Previous research has studied the effect of the WTO's GPA on foreign access to federal construction and other service contracts. This is the first study, however, to investigate whether these contracts impact the import sourcing behavior of the steel that is used in construction. Furthermore, while previous research measures the impact of GPA membership on the overall trade of goods and services, this paper is the first to link a particular industry with the inputs that are restricted by local content requirements such as the Buy American policy but freed up under the GPA. In general, previous research on the GPA has tried to capture the broad effect of GPA membership on trade, while this study focuses on the relationship between the GPA, federal procurement in a particular industry (construction) and import behavior of a key input, construction grade steel.

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