Group of WTO Members Prepares Declaration on Trade and Gender
A group of WTO members has been working on a declaration to be proposed in the margins of the next WTO Ministerial Conference this December in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While the declaration would not be part of the formal ministerial deliberations, sources say, it would aim to provide a framework and platform for members to foster a more inclusive trade agenda.
Several developed and developing country members, including among them Argentina, Canada, Iceland, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and the European Union support the adoption of the declaration, according to sources familiar with the discussions. The document is partly the result of the coordinated efforts of the Trade Impact Group (TIG).
The TIG was established as one of four “impact groups” under the auspices of the International Gender Champions Geneva – a network that brings key decision makers together to address gender barriers to trade.
Although there is a broad understanding that international trade has been beneficial to women, especially in terms of jobs, some experts highlight that trade policies can be detrimental or positive to women depending on their position and role in the economy.
A report released by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2015 finds that US$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.
“The mutual reinforcement between gender equality and economic competitiveness need to be further explicated,” stressed a trade official familiar with the discussions. In fact, trade and development experts often explain that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls – as outlined under UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 – is key for achieving all the other SDGs.
Gender-responsive trade policy
“Trade is good for gender and gender is good for trade,” said Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), while speaking at the WTO Public Forum last month. The ITC is a joint UN-WTO agency and serves as one of the co-chairs of the TIG, along with Iceland and Sierra Leone.
She further explained that the joint declaration does not consist in a negotiating item but rather serve to reaffirm the link between gender and trade and to emphasise the role that the WTO can play in this field.
The development of this declaration coincides with several public statements from WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo on the importance of gender equality in trade over the past several months and the nomination of a gender focal point at the WTO which, according to observers, is an indication of the agency’s interest in featuring gender high on its agenda. (See Bridges Weekly, 22 June 2017)
The joint declaration aims to raise the visibility of trade and gender and identifies several key areas to make trade policies more “gender-responsive.” Those measures include, for example, sharing experiences on gender-responsive policies and programmes; sharing best practices and methods for analysing trade policies and their effects on women; and collecting gender disaggregated data.
A fundamental issue to achieve trade and gender outcomes is the lack of disaggregated data and research at the global level, experts say. Empirical evidence is still lacking and institutions are struggling with several knowledge gaps, which in turn hampers their abilities to craft policy recommendations.
The planned declaration, a copy of which has been seen by Bridges, also includes a reference to a progress report on implementing these and other pledges by 2019.
Trade and gender issues also featured in ministerial-level discussions on the sidelines of an informal WTO meeting this week in Marrakech, Morocco, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström confirmed on social media site Twitter. The “mini-ministerial” was meant to lay the groundwork for the December ministerial conference in Buenos Aires.
Gender in regional, bilateral trade deals
Earlier this year, Chile and Canada finalised an update to their existing trade agreement, agreeing to incorporate a chapter on gender and trade. The chapter is essentially about collaborative activities and sets up institutional mechanism to work on trade and gender.
Last year, Chile and Uruguay concluded a bilateral trade agreement which was welcomed as the first to contain a separate chapter devoted specifically to gender.
Some critics have noted that the gender-related provisions in these trade agreements are non-binding, as the trade and gender chapters are usually excluded from the accord’s dispute settlement provisions. One developed country delegate, however, suggested that the nature of these chapters does not lend themselves to binding rules, as they are meant to set institutional mechanisms for enabling effective cooperation on the issue.
Sources indicate also that the EU is also aiming to including a chapter on gender equality in the planned modernisation of its trade accord with Chile, a process which is due to begin soon.
Canada is also trying to advance a new gender chapter in the context of the negotiations to modernise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (See Bridges Weekly, 5 October 2017)
Additionally, observers point that past trade agreements deal with gender issues in various forms, such as through labour provisions in some cases, or in the context of human rights assessments in others. They have sometimes been addressed specifically through dedicated provisions, such as Article 31 of the Partnership Agreement between the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries with the European Union – known also as the Cotonou Agreement.
One trade delegate familiar with the discussions noted that the recent chapters on gender and trade that have emerged introduce a new focus and framing. There are initial steps to assess the gender impact in some trade agreements and there are gender-specific chapters in certain accords, which the source said could facilitate continued monitoring.