China Launches UN-Backed Sustainable Procurement Programme
On Monday, China announced its latest public procurement leap. Facing serious environmental problems, one of which is stifling pollution, the nation’s government wants to clean up its act. At Xihongqiao Tonglian, an industrial park near China’s International Import Expo, the China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchanges, the UN Development Programme, and the Qingpu District Government signed their commitment to the new programme: ‘Knowledge Sharing, Capacity Building, and Supporting Service on Sustainable Procurement’.
How’s China’s Green Procurement History?
Well, it’s relatively short—a product of the late and great 1990s. Academics talk about it in three stages:
- 1993-2003. China introduces pilot bidding programmes in Shanghai (1996) and Shenzhen (1997), in addition to signing the Government Procurement Law and the Clean Production Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China.
- 2004-2007. China tries to pass additional legislation that makes procurement more centred around people.
- 2007-present. China seeks to meet World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements, specifically, its Agreement on Government Procurement.
Furthermore, let’s not forget the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which Chinese committees implemented green procurement while building Olympic training and performance facilities. Obviously, there is some measure of central government support. Yet the path forward will have its share of challenges.
What’s the Problem, Mate?
China’s green procurement industry is handicapped by infrequent media coverage, lack of specificity in its rules and regulations, and a dearth of subsidies. For example, its Government Procurement Method states that officials should give priority to eco-friendly, high-tech products—but fails to define exactly what that entails and how procurement decisions should be made.
In addition, many Chinese firms illegally label non-green materials and products as green. One must point out that this isn’t, and never will be, a purely Chinese problem—greenwashing is a worldwide trend—but it does represent yet another constraint on the nation’s sustainable public procurement. If companies can’t trust that the products they source are as labeled, any green agreements in procurement will carry less cachet.
How Will This Program Affect Chinese Procurement?
For many Chinese businesses, green procurement efforts seem long overdue—especially ones that directly benefit businesses like the new Sustainable Procurement programme. Rather than setting strict rules and regulations over what companies can and cannot purchase, the central government will now equip smaller Chinese firms with the resources to enter the green market.
First, it’ll offer a platform for Chinese businesses to get involved in the global public procurement market, with the ultimate aim of carbon neutrality. Second, it will provide resources and support to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), along with female-owned firms. Third, it will allow Chinese companies, especially in the Yangtze River Delta region, to participate in procurement for the United Nations.
Fundamentally, this will tie China’s efforts into a larger international effort to improve public procurement. And as the U.S. and Europe start to kick back against China’s market dominance,
China will benefit from close ties with international organisations such as the WTO and the UN. Said Xu Jian, acting governor of Qingpu District: ‘This is a win-win situation’.