SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

I am pleased to join you today. I can only stay for a few moments, but I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to share some thoughts on this very important matter.

Women's economic empowerment is an essential element in building a more inclusive trading system, and a more inclusive society.

I was just at the G20 Summit in Osaka, and this message was high on the agenda during the leaders' discussions.  

If we want to seize all the opportunities that the global economy has to offer, we have to make sure that women are fully integrated into those efforts.

Women entrepreneurs already play a vital part in many economies. According to some estimates, a third of all small and medium enterprises in developing countries are led by women.

However, many barriers persist to their full participation in the global economy. Whether it's fewer legal rights or political under-representation.

Eliminating these barriers can have a tremendous social and economic impact. A McKinsey study estimates that closing the gender gap could add at least USD 12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. This is equivalent to the current GDP of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

We need to use all tools at our disposal to address this – and trade policy can also play a very important role.

In 2017, women's economic empowerment was formally put on the WTO agenda for the first time in our history through the 'Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women'.

I am very proud that this happened during my tenure as Director-General.

124 WTO members and observers have signed up to this initiative.

The aim is to promote women’s economic empowerment by tackling barriers that hamper their participation in global trade. As part of these efforts, members have been working to improve their understanding of the issues.

A key priority in these efforts has been to improve the data and information, which can help to drive this work forward. And we have been working actively on this front.

The WTO and the World Bank launched a joint research project to deepen the understanding of the linkages between trade and gender. The final report resulting from this research will shed light on issues such as:

  1. challenges and opportunities of women traders, and
  2. policies that can best help women gain from trade.

Over the past few months, the WTO has also been working in partnership with the South Asian Women Development Forum and Trade Mark East Africa. Together, we have conducted two regional surveys, one in South Asia and one in East Africa targeting women entrepreneurs. Over 200 women entrepreneurs working in the formal sector were surveyed.

Let me highlight a few of the findings.

First, results show that most women wanted to export and join global markets but were not sure where the opportunities were or how to access them.

Second, more than half of the women entrepreneurs interviewed indicated that they had not received any training on trade regulations in the areas where they have set up their business.

Third, over 90% of the interviewees, including those already running existing and well-established businesses, showed interest in receiving trade-related training.

I think that these results are quite telling. They show real appetite to start trading, so clearly we need to do a better job in building trading capacity to help empower female traders.

Aid for Trade can be a powerful tool to develop women's trade capacity and accessing global markets. In the last 12 years, donors and partner countries have gradually integrated gender into their Aid for Trade objectives.

Today, women's economic empowerment is equally high on both donors' and partner countries' agenda. 84% of donors' Aid-for-Trade strategies and 85% of partner countries' national or regional development strategies seek to promote women's economic empowerment.

During this week's Global Review, members will be discussing the role of the Aid for Trade initiative in removing obstacles that women face when trading and how to enhance this role.

Existing tools can also help women's participation in global trade.

For example, by digitalizing customs procedures, the Trade Facilitation Agreement can make it easier for women entrepreneurs to comply with these steps, as well as avoid the bias sometimes shown by customs officials.

Digital technologies can be transformational in helping women entrepreneurs join global trade flows. It is therefore crucial to bridge the existing gender gaps in using digital tools. Women cannot be excluded from the opportunities that the digital economy offers.

Similarly, government procurement is a market which represents around 15% of GDP in most economies. But only 1% of women entrepreneurs participate in it.  

The transparency and openness principles of the Government Procurement Agreement and the encouragement it provides to e-procurement tools can make a big difference to help women-led businesses to access these markets.

The Generalised Systems of Preferences can also help, but unsurprisingly women in LDCs tend to have little knowledge about them. This limits the opportunities that those schemes create, and the impact they can have.  

We need to ensure that women entrepreneurs become aware of, and have access to, these existing tools.

While I think we can be proud of the progress made in the short time since Buenos Aires, there is no doubt that we can do more.

WTO members are engaged here – and they are motivated. So let's seize this opportunity.

Today's session is a great chance to deepen this conversation.

We will be able to hear directly from female entrepreneurs, from the users of the trading system. We will hear about what the barriers are that stand in their way, and how trade rules and processes can make a difference.

I am sure it will be a very constructive dialogue.

Working together, we can make a big difference, and help women entrepreneurs reap the rewards that trade has to offer.

Thank you.

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