SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Remarks by DG Azevêdo

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Distinguished ministers,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. Welcome to the second day of the Global Review.

Before I start, I'd like to thank Anoush Der Boghossian for bringing the room to order – and for being the WTO's first gender focal point. She helps to coordinate all our work on these issues. And she's doing a great job.

This session is looking at inclusiveness through the lens of gender empowerment.

I think the debate on gender issues is more vibrant than it has been for many years. It was high on the agenda at the G20 in Hamburg last week. And it was quite striking to look around the table at that meeting.

Once you had counted the G20 leaders, the guest countries and international organization heads, like myself, there were 32 people around the table.

And out of those 32 people, just 4 were women. Just 4.

It's a reminder of just how far we have to go – and it underlines the importance of this discussion today.

There's no doubt that trade plays an important role in gender empowerment.

  • It helps to create job opportunities and provide better salaries.
  • It encourages education and skills development.
  • And it helps to increase financial independence.

 

Tradable sectors are large sources of female employment. In developing countries, companies that export employ more women than those that don’t.

Let me give you a few figures…

  • In Rwanda, 74 per cent of those engaged in cross-border trade are women, and 90 per cent of them rely on cross-border trade as their sole income source.
  • In Cambodia, 86 per cent of silk industry employees are women.
  • In China, 55 per cent of digital entrepreneurs are women.

 

This is all very positive. However, big imbalances persist.

Overall, women are under-represented in international trade. For example, only 1 in 5 exporting firms is led by a female entrepreneur.

In addition, various barriers hamper women entrepreneurs in accessing international markets.

First, legal and regulatory barriers are higher for women.

In many economies, female entrepreneurs face more obstacles than their male counterparts, ranging from obtaining credit and registering property to very simple and basic things, such as opening a bank account.

In 155 out of 190 economies studied by the World Bank, women do not have the same legal rights as men, meaning that there is at least one law impeding women's economic opportunities.

So these legal and regulatory issues are the first kind of barrier I wanted to mention.

The second is access to capital.

This is a major obstacle to women in building a business, not least as they often have less collateral.

Moreover, some countries require women to have their husband's authorization to start a bank account or register a business.

These are major impediments.

Moving on, the third barrier I wanted to mention is that gender biases can sometimes result in greater risks and unfavourable working conditions for women.

Research has found that at some border-crossings women are disproportionately harassed and asked for bribes.

And we should note that gender biases occur everywhere. A survey of Canadian women-owned SME exporters found out that 75 per cent of them perceived a 'lack of respect by male business owners' and 'a refusal to be taken seriously'.

Now, let me stress that my point here is not that the Canadians are biased against women – quite the opposite. In fact I think the country is showing real leadership in confronting the persistent issues and unconscious biases that we have in all our societies.

And, of course, the fact that they are often unconscious makes them even harder to address.

Now, let me turn to the final barrier I wanted to mention which is knowledge and skills.

Low levels of literacy are more prevalent among female than male traders. The same applies to awareness about cross-border trade regulations and procedures.

This is an area where capacity-building support could have a particularly important and direct impact.

We need to work to lower these barriers – and, wherever possible, to eliminate them.

Doing so would contribute not only to the economic empowerment of women, but also to overall economic growth and social development.

The World Bank shows that the elimination of discrimination against women workers and managers would raise per capita productivity by 40 per cent. That is huge.

So we must act – and there is a range of practical things that we can do.

By empowering the smaller entrepreneurs, we can make a direct impact on women's participation in trade.

SMEs are a major source of employment for women. In emerging markets, up to 40 per cent of SMEs are owned by women.

Aid for Trade puts a significant focus on SME internationalization. In fact, Aid for Trade support for SME development has risen by around 50 per cent between 2005 and 2013.

Another area where the initiative can make a big difference is by helping to bridge the digital divide.

Facilitating e-commerce can dramatically lower the barriers to trading for women everywhere.

The internet provides women entrepreneurs with easier and less expensive ways to access foreign markets. Fully realizing this opportunity requires better connectivity infrastructure, paired with the necessary skills and training.

With all such actions, appropriate data is vital to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.

However, there is insufficient information at present to track the links between trade and gender.

The WTO recently launched a short brochure on 'gender aware trade policy', which is available here today. And we are also looking to produce a deeper, more comprehensive publication on these issues.

The Aid for Trade 'At a Glance' report that we launched yesterday also puts a focus here. It highlights some of the divides that prevent women from fully reaping the benefits of international trade. And on a more positive note, it also shows how the gender dimension is increasingly integrated into trade and development programmes. 

For example, almost 90 per cent of donors are now integrating women's economic empowerment into their Aid for Trade programming.

This is progress – but of course there is much more we can do to make the trading system more inclusive.

Action has to come from all quarters – from our organizations, our communities, our families and ourselves.

At the WTO, we are looking for ways to raise awareness, streamline gender into our capacity-building programmes and enhance in-house cooperation on gender and trade.

And, as I mentioned at the outset, for the first time in the organization's history we have appointed a focal point on gender to champion these issues.

Of course, men also need to be a part of this effort. We want to bring men's voices into the conversation – and I'm glad to see that we have some gender balance on our panel. And I am also willing to be a part of these efforts.

So, in conclusion, I'd just like to leave you with one thought…

At the start of my remarks I mentioned the gender balance among the leaders at the G20.

So let me quote another inspiring leader that I have had the pleasure of meeting and working closely with during her country's accession to the WTO. And, by the way, a leader who just so happens to be a woman.

I am talking about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

She said:

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

So let's be ambitious. Together, we can work to break down all of the barriers, and ensure that women everywhere can use trade as a springboard for their economic empowerment.

So let me thank you once more, and wish you a fruitful discussion.

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