119 nations back move to remove barriers limiting women’s participation in trade

A World Trade Organization (WTO) logo is pictured on their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Nearly three-fourths of the 164-member World Trade Organisation (WTO) have supported a declaration seeking women’s economic empowerment by expeditiously removing barriers to trade, a decision that the global body termed as history-making.

However, India, an influential WTO member, was among the minority group that chose not to endorse the move saying while it stoutly supports gender equality, it cannot concur with the view that gender is a trade-related issue. Agreeing to the proposition to link gender and trade could lead to advanced countries using their high standards in gender-related policies to not only curb exports from the developing world, but also indirectly restrict developing countries from incentivising their women citizens as part of measures to address developmental challenges, Indian officials said.

They added that gender-related discussions should take place at appropriate fora and not at the WTO, which is purely a trade-related body. Otherwise, it will set a precedent to bring in other non-trade issues such as labour and environment standards into the WTO’s ambit, the officials said.

Meanwhile, a WTO statement on Tuesday said, “For the first time in the history of the WTO… 118 (later officially updated to 119) WTO members and observers agreed to support the ‘Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade’, which seeks to remove barriers to, and foster, women’s economic empowerment.” It added, “Actions outlined in the Declaration will… provide more and better paid jobs for women. These actions will also contribute to UN Global Development Goals, including the Sustainable Development Goal to achieve gender equality through the empowerment of women and girls.” According to Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Centre, increasing women’s engagement in trade is important as advancing women’s equality could help add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025.

‘Pink herring’

However, more than 160 women’s rights and allied organizations across the world said in a joint statement that the Declaration “fails to address the adverse impact of WTO rules on women and instead appears to be designed to mask the failures of the WTO and its role in deepening inequality and exploitation.” Kate Lappin, Global Coordinator, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development said in a statement that, "women's rights organisations from all continents have rejected this declaration as simply a 'pink herring' designed to distract attention from the harm the WTO does.” Joms Salvador, GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women, Philippines, said, “we reject WTO's gender washing aimed at making palatable neoliberal policies that inflict deep sufferings on women from poor and underdeveloped countries.”

Among other things, WTO members and observers supporting the Declaration have specifically agreed to explore and find ways to best tackle women’s general lack of access to trade financing and sub-optimal participation of women in public procurement markets. “Inclusion of women-led businesses, in particular small firms, in value chains” has also been identified as a theme related to trade and the economic empowerment of women. Within the WTO context, members will scrutinize their own policies through a gender lens, the global trade body said, adding that “Progress will be reported in 2019.”

(The writer is in Buenos Aires at the invitiation of Indian Commerce Ministry)

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Printable version | Jul 21, 2021 11:20:18 PM |

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