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

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.

India’s stand:

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.
India also observed 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.

Background:

Currently, many women worldwide stand on the sidelines of the economy. While women comprise about half of the global population, they generate only 37% of gross domestic product (GDP) and run only about a third of small and medium-sized enterprises. In some developing countries, female business ownership can dip as low as 3-6%. An International Trade Centre survey in 20 countries found that just one in five exporting companies is owned by women. In more than 155 countries, there is at least one law impeding economic opportunities for women. No country has managed to close the gender gap on economic participation and opportunity; progress is so slow it would take, at the current rate, 170 years to reach gender equality. It is also apparent that international trade and trade agreements affect women and men differently

Buenos Aires Women and Trade Declaration:

It was spearheaded by the governments of Iceland and Sierra Leone, as well as the International Trade Centre. It stemmed from efforts made by the Trade Impact Group of the International Gender Champions, a leadership network that brings female and male decision-makers together to break down gender barriers. The declaration seeks women’s economic empowerment by expeditiously removing barriers to trade.

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