Remarks by DG Azevêdo


Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon everyone.

I am pleased to join you for this workshop on women and global value chains.

At the outset, I would like to thank the MIKTA countries for their leadership in organizing this event. It's great to see momentum building in this debate at the WTO.

It is just 10 months since 118 WTO members and observers signed up to the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. And I think a lot has been achieved since then.

More members have signed up, bringing the total to 121.

And members are following up on their commitments – including the pledge to deepen our dialogue with a series of dedicated sessions on gender-related topics.

These discussions have helped to establish the importance of these issues. They have helped to identify obstacles which can prevent women from participating fully in the global economy. And they have helped members to consider how trade and the WTO could help to overcome – or eliminate – those obstacles.

A number of thematic sessions have been held.

Earlier this year, a seminar highlighted the importance of improving gender-based analysis in trade. There is a data gap at present, which prevents us from gaining a better understanding of the linkages between trade and gender.

To help address this, the WTO has joined forces with the World Bank on a research project to gather such data. The plan is to launch a dedicated publication next year – so watch this space.

Members also held a session looking at the importance of government procurement markets for inclusive economic development, particularly for women. The role of the WTO's Government Procurement Agreement was a big focus there.

Today, we are continuing to develop the conversation.

The focus of this session is how to enhance the participation of women entrepreneurs and traders in global value chains.

For much of the 20th century, goods were made in one place and shipped to another. Companies either exported their products, or were established in the target market through FDI and would produce, assemble and distribute their products from there.

Today, trade is far more multi-faceted, involving flows of goods, services, investments and people – all contributing to global value chains. Today nearly two-thirds of traded goods are made with components from at least two different countries.

Therefore, it seems clear that helping women to access these networks would unlock many opportunities, with a direct impact for economic wellbeing. Joining GVCs can potentially help female entrepreneurs to improve the quality of their products, scale up and diversify their production.

However, evidence suggests that we have a long way to go.

Women are much less integrated into international trade, so they are not feeling the benefits.

Globally, only 15% of exporting SMEs are led by women.

This suggests that women are facing a range of barriers in connecting to GVCs. Today's workshop will help us to understand the challenges here, and how we may be able to work together to meet them.

One element here could be to help women integrate into the formal sector. Female entrepreneurs account for one third of all business in the formal sector, globally.

At present many women work in the informal sector. In Benin, Chad, and Mali, for example, the informal sector accounts for over 95% of women working outside agriculture. In India and in Indonesia it's 90%.

Facilitating more women to work in the formal sector would bring the possibility of trading and getting involved in GVCs much closer.

Of course, formalization also means registering businesses and ultimately paying taxes. Entrepreneurs will only be willing to bear this cost if they perceive benefits from operating formally.

Therefore, domestic policy can play a key role.

But even when female-led businesses are formalized, a range of other obstacles persist.

Access to capital is an important factor.

In many countries women often have less collateral.  To open a bank account or register a business, they must sometimes have their father or husband's authorization.

A World Bank study shows that women-owned SMEs have unmet financial needs of between 260 and 320 billion dollars a year.

Trade finance may also be an issue here, and we are working with a number of partners to increase access, including for female entrepreneurs and SMEs. Next week I will be meeting with the International Finance Corporation, the regional development banks, the Financial Stability Board and others to examine what more can be done in this area.

Another issue is access to information.

According to the World Bank, low levels of literacy and lack of information and awareness about cross-border trade regulations and procedures are much more common among female traders.

Capacity building is clearly an important tool here.

One good example is the work that the Enhanced Integrated Framework is doing in Mali.

Through this project women mango producers are learning how to meet the necessary sanitary and phytosanitary standards for global trading. It has helped them to harness the opportunities provided by trade. They were even able to expand their business into the production of mango jam and juice – thereby climbing up the value chain.

The role of the Aid for Trade initiative in removing obstacles that women face when trading is a topic that merits much deeper discussion. So I'm pleased that this is on your agenda today.

The final area I want to mention, and where action could make a difference, is facilitating digital inclusion.

The internet provides women entrepreneurs with easier and less expensive ways to access foreign markets. Improving digital inclusion could therefore dramatically lower the barriers to joining GVCs.

The International Telecommunications Union reports that the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men. This gender gap widens to around 33% in least developed countries.

Discussions are ongoing among a large group of members regarding how they can ensure that everybody can participate and benefit from the digital economy. This could prove helpful in bridging this connectivity gender gap.

Of course there are many other areas where action may be needed.

This is what we are here today to explore. And I look forward to hearing about the ideas raised.

The economic case for empowering women is clear.

In fact, it is estimated that increasing women's labour market participation to the same level as men's would have dramatic effects. It would raise GDP between 5 and 34%.

But of course this is about more than economics.

Having the freedom to participate in the economy is about having the freedom to explore your full potential and to contribute to society in the way you choose.

Trade is just one part of the picture – but it is an essential part. So let's keep building this momentum.

I hope you have a very constructive and positive discussion today – and I look forward to working with you as this debate continues to develop.

Thank you.




Problems viewing this page? If so, please contact [email protected] giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.