Making Trade Work

Accords like the New West Provincial Trade Agreement (NWPTA), and its predecessor TILMA (the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement), have succeeded in removing the trade barriers that long existed between provinces. This is an important accomplishment for a prosperous and competitive Canada. However, the NWPTA's current procurement provisions cause a unique problem for consulting engineers and their government clients, in terms of delivering public infrastructure and other engineered assets. At present, the trade agreement requires clients to solicit and accept submissions from all firms within its area-thereby making the procurement of engineering services more time-consuming, and more expensive, for all parties.

Such an assessment process, involving wide-open solicitation of proposals by clients, means that many more firms than necessary-eager to secure work-will submit bids. This drives up the client's time and cost for assessing the flood of proposals. To avoid this situation, clients traditionally invite only a short list of bidders that they know from experience are qualified. This speeds up the assessment process, reduces its cost, and helps to assure quality work from the successful bidder.

However, when clients are under pressure to get a project under way, in many cases they may simply select the lowest-cost submission-a short-term solution that is often adopted at the expense of quality work, and long-term cost considerations over the project's life-cycle. This approach can compromise the quality of the professional services, drive up the total cost of the project, and create subsequent construction, maintenance, or repair issues (with associated costs). It also discourages the use of best practices. And the lower overall success rate for bidding professionals means that the greater cost of pursuing contracts must be passed on to their clients (and, indirectly, to taxpayers).

Under ideal bidding circumstances, the client would assess the quality of every proposal in terms of the capability of the proponent, and the price. Unlike most other government purchasing, the lowest price for consulting engineering services is not always the best deal. In fact it usually is not, given the impact of the engineering on the project's life-cycle costs. This is why ACEC aims to create an environment in which the client's best interests and the professional's best interests can coincide.

Our Advocacy Campaign

For many years, ACEC has taken the lead in facilitating a nationwide grassroots campaign to help its member organizations and its member firms to engage with their respective governments and municipalities. Our goal is to harmonize our approach, so that a consistent message is delivered in every province. So far, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have become signatories to the NWPT Agreement; and negotiations are now under way between them and the governments of Manitoba, and of several other parts of Canada. As part of its advocacy efforts, ACEC has created an information microsite, www.makingtradework.ca. Primarily tailored to Manitoba members, the site contains key messages, tips for conducting successful meetings with government officials, and documents and case studies to support dealing with these trade provisions.  ACEC has also generated a toolkit for its members.

Monitoring International Trade

ACEC has been keeping an interested eye on the procurement provisions of international trade negotiations involving the European Union and the Pacific Rim. Our goal is always to ensure that no part of the agreements require, encourage, or force procurement officials to focus on price as the determining factor when purchasing professional services.

We have been in contact with trade negotiators at DFAIT with regard to the proposed trade agreement between Canada and the European Union. At present, DFAIT indicates that the provisions for engineering and architectural services will remain consistent with the current General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), to which Canada is already subject. There is no intention to harmonize with the NWPTA. Nevertheless, ACEC will continue to monitor this agreement.

ACEC has also been invited to provide input to DFAIT in advance of negotiations for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since that partnership will include the U.S.A., ACEC's American branch, ACEC-US, would be vigilant in protecting its QBS regime, if required.

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