Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Examining the Global Rise of Women's Economic Empowerment Through Recent Developments in WTO and APEC


     For the first time in their collective history, the members and observers of the World Trade Organization, gathered at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference held this past December in Buenos Aires, Argentina, endorsed a program aimed at increasing women's participation in trade. The "Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade" is intended to contribute to the fulfillment of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, the fifth of which is gender equality.

     Canada, Iceland and Sierra Leone led the push to pass the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade, which gained the support of a large majority of WTO members. Under the declaration, member countries agreed to analyze their national policies from the perspective of gender, and to search for ways to increase women's participation in the global economy. Members also undertook to ensure that trade-related assistance focuses more on its implications for women, and to report their progress on these fronts in 2019.

     Moreover, members agreed to further share their experience with plans and policies on women's economic participation, to exchange best practices based on analyses of gender issues in trade policy, to assemble indicators relevant to the topic, to discuss control and assessment methods, and to analyze trade data related to gender, all for the overall purpose of removing obstacles to women's economic participation.

     Before the declaration was released, there had already been several recent regional and bilateral trade pacts that included clauses relevant to differing economic participation along gender lines. Bilateral trade agreements between Chile and Canada, Chile and Uruguay, and Chile and the
EU, as well as planned negotiations by Canada on NAFTA, all incorporated new language on gender. While previous trade agreements had sought to address gender issues by means of human rights assessments and various specialized criteria, the appearance of specific language on gender and trade
in these agreements symbolized that the importance of gender issues would now be on par with other economic and trade topics, and signaled that the signing of future trade agreements would increasingly take into account the potential implications of those agreements for gender welfare and
     In light of these developments, and in order to accommodate the growing influence of gender mainstreaming as a policymaking approach, the International Gender Champions Trade Impact Group (TIG), as a subsidiary organization of the WTO, moved to hold discussions on the relationship
between trade and gender, which in turn contributed to the WTO's first-ever proclamation on an issue dealing with women and trade. This progress has helped elucidate the relationship between gender equality and economic competitiveness, while simultaneously providing WTO members with a framework and platform on which to further advance an inclusive trade agenda.

     Though the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade gained the support of a large majority of WTO members, it was not affirmed by a number of countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Venezuela, and India, the last of which argued that gender issues lay outside the scope of the WTO. Moreover, progress in the WTO Ministerial Conference stalled on important issues, without reaching consensus on public stockholding for food security or domestic regulation in services, and without issuing any joint statement on the direction, issues, or expected outcomes
of the next two years of the Doha Round of trade talks. No mention was made of concrete future steps to be taken on the issue of women, which had previous been a relatively marginal issue at WTO talks, and so it is expected that regional and bilateral trade agreements will continue to steer thinking
and policy action on the relationship between women and trade.

     In contrast to the very gradual steps on the issue taken by the WTO in its ongoing Doha Round, APEC in recent years has demonstrated positive and steady progress on women's issues. In 2011, APEC economies issued the San Francisco Declaration, which expressed support for women's economic empowerment and stated that actions furthering women's economic empowerment were to be at the heart of APEC leaders' policy strategies for growth. Moreover, the San Francisco Declaration also identified access to financial capital, market access, skills and capacity building, and women's leadership as pillars of a gender mainstreaming approach. The declaration stands as a landmark in APEC's promotion of gender mainstreaming as a future policymaking framework.

     In the same year that the San Francisco Declaration announced its commitment to pursuing women's economic empowerment, APEC also moved to alter its organizational structure as part of a positive effort to promote women's issues, merging the Gender Focal Point Network (GFPN) and the Women's Leadership Network (WLN) into the Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy (PPWE). Under this reorganization, APEC has continued to encourage its member economies to develop action plans and proposals that promote the main pillars of gender mainstreaming, and has
helped connect top public representatives with the APEC Business Advisory Council and other related international organizations in a public-private partnership to advance the cause of women's economic empowerment.
     To assess APEC's results in its work on women's issues, the APEC Policy Support Unit in 2015 compiled the Women and the Economy Dashboard, which presents 75 different indicators related to women and the economy in order to track and assess the conditions of women's economic participation in each member economy. 

     2017 was a productive year for APEC in terms of its work on women's issues. The APEC Leaders' Declaration and Joint Ministerial Statement issued in Vietnam late last year positioned digital technology as the next front for capacity-building and high-level skills training programs for women. It is hoped that by strengthening the pillars of gender mainstreaming, these programs can advance gender equality and promote inclusive growth. These projects are also intimately connected with the theme of APEC in Papua New Guinea this year, "Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future." Papua New Guinea has proposed that "Promoting Sustainable and Inclusive Growth" be listed as a priority issue for the year, as a means of helping APEC member economies think about how to promote regionally inclusive and sustainable growth. Increasing women's participation in the
labor market was specifically listed as a key component of inclusive growth.


     Over the past several years, progress in regional and bilateral trade agreements has increasingly focused attention by major international organizations on the relationship between women and trade, culminating in the WTO's first-ever formal declaration on the conflicts between gender inequality and trade. Heralding a turn toward more inclusive trade, the Buenos Aires Declaration on women's economic participation reflects the clear influence of APEC, which in 2011 began to focus on gender
mainstreaming, and in 2015 started to emphasize the topic of inclusive growth. This year's APEC theme and priority action areas not only incorporate a continuing emphasis on the importance of female economic empowerment as a driver of inclusive growth, they also highlight the potential significance of digital technology for women, providing a reference for future action by the WTO on issues of women and trade.

     Whether at the WTO or in APEC, Chinese Taipei has consistently demonstrated a positive commitment to taking action on women's issues. During WTO MC11, the Chinese Taipei delegation supported Canada's proposal on women's economic empowerment, and at last year's APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, Chinese Taipei joined with the US and Australia in launching the APEC Women and the Economy Sub-fund, which will enable APEC to support applications by member economies for projects on women's issues. Through continued emphasis and action on these issues, Chinese Taipei can seize the initiative on the international stage to become an advocate for women across the world.

( Business Forum Newsletter,

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