Dr. Lucian Cernat on the role of international public procurement in the context of global trade negotiations between the EU and third countries
My name is Lucian Cernat and I am currently in charge of global regulatory cooperation and public procurement negotiations at the European Commission (DG TRADE). I am also a part-time lecturer at Utrecht University School of Economics. Between 2009-2020, I was the Chief Trade Economist at the European Commission. Until 2008, I held various positions at the United Nations in Geneva dealing with the development impact of trade policies, WTO negotiations, regional trade agreements, competition policy, and corporate governance. Prior to this UN experience, I was a trade negotiator with the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I have studied engineering and economics at Bucharest University, followed by postgraduate studies at the University of Amsterdam and Oxford University. I completed my studies with a PhD from the University of Manchester, followed by an executive leadership program for public policy makers at Harvard University.
I enjoy engaging in academic and research activities that are relevant for my policy-making work I carry out at the European Commission, especially as part of our evidence-based policymaking.
What are you working on, and why?
Public procurement is a very challenging field, both in terms of research and international and national rule making. My public procurement related work focuses on international procurement, that is procurement between EU countries and third countries, such as the USA, Canada, China, India, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, etc. International public procurement involves a substantive amount of money and is an area gaining in importance among policy-makers. However, despite the size and importance of international public procurement, it is subject to hundreds of restrictive measures and discriminatory policies.
Trade negotiations provide a good opportunity to restore a level-playing field but this remains a daunting task, especially since the factual information available to policy makers remains scarce. Hence, one of my key research interest is to improve the availability of key international procurement indicators and the policies affecting such markets. A key analytical framework to understand international procurement markets and existing policy distortions requires detailed information about the various modes of supply in public procurement (e.g. cross-border, via foreign affiliates, along global supply chains, or via subcontracting)
I am also interested in the participation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in cross-border public procurement activities, both within and beyond the European Union. SMEs are critical players for a vibrant, competitive economy and procurement is a very important sector for many of them. Green, sustainable procurement is also a key EU priority, given the climate change imperatives. Finally yet importantly, the impact of new disruptive digital technologies may also have an impact on public procurement, beyond the adoption of e-procurement procedures in many countries.
Against all these global imperatives, public procurement is poised to play a critical role in ensuring a robust economic recovery for years to come. These are just some of the reasons I feel passionate about my work, both as a policy maker and a researcher.
What do you get out of bed for every morning? And is that different now that we have started working hybrid?
When you really like what you do, starting the day in the morning only requires a small coffee. In my case, maybe a #tradeXpresso. The new, post-covid19 hybrid working method is overall a good thing for me. I am tech enthusiast and adopting new digital collaborative working methods increased my productivity. I do nonetheless enjoy very much a real expresso with my team and colleagues, whenever we get the chance
Our world seems to be in a continuous state of various crises (environment, COVID19, Ukraine): Can you indicate for one (or possibly several) of these crises how this affects your field?
We live in a time of multiple crises, what some people called a “polycrisis”: environmental, health, geopolitical, societal, etc. We also live in a time of unprecedented technological change. International trade is and will remain, in my view, at the centre of the world economy. It is also part of our everyday life, as individuals and consumers. The solution to these major global challenges requires stronger trade rules and global regulatory cooperation. As such, my job touches upon a whole range of issues related to new legislative requirements, new product standards and safety, and the promotion of efficient public procurement markets. Some of these new forces shaping the global economy require also institutional or legal changes. But changing the global rules governing our economic interactions is not easy, and certainly does not happen overnight.
The challenge is how to find enough flexibility within the existing rules that would allow us to quickly adapt to these sudden and disruptive challenges. Take the example of covid19 and the massive shortages of essential medical equipment, masks, or breathing ventilators at the peak of the pandemic. The EU response in terms of joint procurement of such equipment or vaccine acquisition and delivery was a good example of how one needs to repurpose the existing rules to deal with unexpected crises, as opposed to engaging in a lengthy, major overhaul of the entire regulatory system.
The bottom line is that although change is difficult, it does not mean it cannot be done. We have also demonstrated in Europe that sometimes we can quickly put in place new rules. We also need to anticipate future crises and learn from the past ones. I think this logic also applies to public procurement, where the adoption of the latest International Procurement Instrument offers the best example of this adaptive capacity of our procurement rules to new realities.
Which person inspires you and what would you like to ask her/him?
I am great tennis fan and I felt a lot of admiration for Roger Federer throughout his career. Now that he has recently retired, I wish I knew how he managed to make such a difficult sport look effortless for so many years.
Name the book/movie/thinker that impressed you the most, shaped you, would like to read or see you 100 more times and why?
I particularly enjoyed “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. I resonate very well with the main theme of the book, which is about the incredible inroads that new digital technologies made in our lives in such a relatively short time span. I was particularly fascinated by the authors’ ability to look through the lens of economics at the complexity of our post-modern lives.