Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Good morning everyone. I am pleased to join you at this important event.

I would like to thank the Republic of Moldova for organising today's meeting, and for taking up the torch from Canada to continue the debate on trade and gender in the WTO. And I hope that this torch will be raised by many others as well.

Events like this are a vital opportunity to improve our understanding of the issues, to look with a critical eye at what we are already doing, and to shed light on what more we could do to empower female entrepreneurs to trade.

WTO members have chosen to place a real focus on these issues.

122 members have now signed up to the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade. Together they represent 75% of global trade. And of course participation remains open to all.

This huge support signals a strong belief among the membership that trade can create real opportunities for women's economic development.

And the momentum continues to build. Members are acting on the commitments they made in Buenos Aires by working to deepen their discussions on these issues.

I would also note that, on a separate track, we have been working within the Secretariat to get our own house in order:

  • First, we have appointed a Gender Focal Point – Anoush Der Boghossian – who is doing a great job keeping these issues high on our agenda.  
  • Second, we have been improving our coordination and capacity in this area, through our new WTO Action Plan on Trade and Gender.
  • And third we are improving gender parity among the Secretariat through new HR policies and practices.

So I think we can point to progress on a number of fronts.

Of course today's discussion builds directly on the Buenos Aires Declaration, and the pledge that members made to organise a series of dedicated discussions on gender-related topics.

Our focus in this session is on how to enhance the participation of women entrepreneurs and traders in government procurement.

You might well ask: what has government procurement got to do with gender?

It's a fair question.

We don't have the data to say conclusively to what extent women are excluded from government procurement opportunities. But it seems clear that there is a problem. Our colleagues from the ITC estimate that women entrepreneurs supply only 1% of this market.

This suggests that women are facing a range of barriers in accessing and winning procurement contracts. So I think improving this kind of information is a particular challenge that we need to grasp. Today's workshop will contribute to this effort.

One thing we can say with absolute certainty is that procurement is one of the most effective tools that governments have to support women-led businesses.

The World Bank cites Australia, Canada, South Korea and the UK as examples here.

Governments in those countries are discovering how procurement policies can be used to break patterns of economic exclusion and deliver real, immediate benefits.

The sheer size of the global public procurement market underlines the potential. It is estimated to account for around 15% of GDP in most economies.

Improving women's access to this sector would unlock many opportunities for female entrepreneurs, with a direct impact on their economic wellbeing.

One element here is to lower barriers for small businesses.

Women are relatively well-represented in this part of the economy – with around 40% of MSMEs being women-owned and led. In larger firms the proportion is much smaller. For example, just 5% of companies in the Fortune 500 are led by women. It's not a perfect comparison, but it gives an indication of how important boosting MSMEs could be for women's economic empowerment.

Lowering barriers for these companies to compete for procurement opportunities would have a positive effect.

But, in fact, this can be achieved by lowering the costs and complexity of participation across the board.

When barriers are lowered for all companies this can have a disproportionately favourable impact for MSMEs.

Improving online access to procurement processes and information is a vital step in creating a more level playing field for MSMEs. And I believe we will be hearing more about this during today's session.

Another element which makes a big contribution in this area is the WTO's Government Procurement Agreement – and particularly the modern, revised agreement which entered into force in 2014.

The GPA is the world’s principal tool for facilitating trade in relation to government procurement markets. It covers a number of economies of all sizes and stages of development. In fact, the revised Agreement expanded the market access opportunities it provides to around 100 billion dollars each year.

It promotes good governance mechanisms in government procurement, built around the WTO’s fundamental principles of non-discrimination, transparency and predictability. And it encourages the use of e-procurement tools that can further enhance accessibility and efficiency of procurement systems.

Taken together, these principles and features help to promote transparent access to public procurement markets, as well as better value for money for governments and citizens. Therefore this agreement has huge potential to enhance the participation of women entrepreneurs in this sector, enabling them to access new business opportunities.

However, we still need to bridge important gaps to ensure that these opportunities are more widely available.

For example, not all WTO members are part of the GPA.

At present it has 47 members, and 31 observers – some of whom are working to accede. So clearly we need to look at these issues with a different lens for those who are outside the GPA.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, for many economies, we still lack data on the participation of women entrepreneurs in procurement markets.

Work here could help highlight the particular challenges women traders face. And it could encourage governments to think about how they can help them overcome these barriers.

I hope that today's discussion will help shed light on some of these points.

We can do more to ensure that trade supports the economic empowerment of women. And in my view we must do more.

Government procurement is a crucial tool here – as is the GPA.

All the available evidence shows that giving women the same opportunities as men helps to improve competitiveness and productivity, which in turn impacts economic growth and poverty reduction.

So let's keep working to that end.

I am proud to support the activities of WTO members – and of our own efforts within the Secretariat.

I hope you have a very constructive and positive discussion today.

I look forward to hearing about your deliberations, and to working together and take these issues forward.

Thank you.




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