Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and welcome to this fourth Buenos Aires Declaration Workshop on trade and gender.

I won’t speak for too long – but I wanted to make sure that I was here to add my voice on this important issue.

We have come a long way from the idea that trade rules are 'gender neutral'. There is a growing recognition that trade and trade rules can be a useful mechanism to support women's economic empowerment. 

The 2017 Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment should take credit for this shift in attitudes.

122 members and observers have now signed that declaration. It has given the issue real momentum at the WTO.

The Declaration identified various instruments that can help us better understand the links between trade and women's economic empowerment. And members have been following through.

For example, they have been putting focus on the WTO Trade Policy Review process. WTO members are increasingly using the process to share information on their gender related trade policies.

We have also seen the profile of gender issues increase significantly in the WTO's Aid for Trade initiative.

And members have been working to improve their understanding of the issues. Since Buenos Aires, thematic workshops have been held on a range of specific topics to share best practices and national experiences.

Today's event continues this series – and I understand that more are planned for later in the year.

Our topic today is the role of free trade agreements in promoting gender equality.

Explicit references to gender in such agreements is not a recent phenomenon.

Our Economic Research and Statistics Division has been analysing the gender components of 556 preferential trade agreements. They will go into more detail later today, but let me touch on a few interesting elements.

The first gender-related article that they have found is in the 1957 Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community. It requires each member state to apply the principle of equal pay for women and men.

Some years later, the 1983 Treaty establishing the Economic Community of Central African States was the first signed by developing countries to include such a provision. This time it was aimed at improving the economic, social and cultural status of women in urban and rural areas, and increasing their integration in development activities.

As of March 2017, 62 RTAs notified to the WTO (and in force) include at least one provision explicitly related to women and gender issues. That's around a fifth of all notified RTAs.

This figure is even higher when provisions on implicit gender-related issues are considered. This happens in areas such as human rights, the social dimension of sustainable development, labour discrimination and vulnerable groups.

Since 2016, a new trend has emerged with the inclusion of stand-alone chapters on trade and gender in the RTAs negotiated by Canada and Chile.

Several others, including the European Union and New Zealand, have indicated their intention to address more explicitly the role of women in their new trade agreements.

Of course, these efforts are bolstered by the Buenos Aires declaration.

But it is not an easy task to mainstream gender into trade policies and into development projects.

It is one thing to set an objective in favour of women's empowerment, it is another to design concrete policies and programmes to implement that objective. We are seeing a range of steps being taken.

Some countries have launched processes to translate their gender equality objectives into concrete trade policies and programmes. Some are evaluating the impact of their Aid for Trade strategies to better reach women. Others are organising national consultations to better understand how to integrate gender into their trade policies. And some are thinking about how to design new types of trade agreements, building on the work that has been done so far.

We are all still somewhere on the learning curve. And this is why it is important for members to continue sharing information on their best practices – including through forums like this.

Of course, one solution will not fit all – but we can all learn from each other's experience.  

So I hope that today's discussions can increase understanding and help to trigger new ideas on how women could benefit more from trade across the board.

One thing is clear. All the evidence shows that giving women the same opportunities as men improves competitiveness and productivity. In turn, this boosts economic growth and poverty reduction.

So let's keep working to see how we can continue building momentum in this area – and keep learning from each other.

And this is what we're doing here today – so I wish you all a very interesting and productive discussion.

Thank you.




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