WTO Members highlight progress on trade and gender, aim for long-term work programme in 2023

At their last meeting of the year held on 12 December, members of the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender took stock of the work undertaken in 2022 and considered their next steps. The co-chairs highlighted that the mandate of the Informal Working Group was strengthened by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) outcome document, which recognizes the importance of women’s economic empowerment. They announced that 2023 should be dedicated to developing a long-term work programme containing concrete actions and deadlines.

Co-chair Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland stressed that the MC12 outcome document recognizes at the multilateral level the importance of women’s economic empowerment and the work of the WTO on this issue. “That means that gender issues are now considered as part of the WTO’s work as a whole. That gives us an additional and stronger mandate in addition to the one outlined in the interim report establishing the IWG in 2020,” he said.

Ambassador Gunnarsson noted that members’ technical work on trade and gender accelerated after MC12, citing a workshop on gender equality and the private sector organized by the three co-chairs — Botswana, El Salvador and Iceland — and a workshop on data collection broken down by gender organized by Canada. In addition, the European Union and International Trade Centre organized four workshops on “Developing a gender lens framework for the WTO,” focusing on the topics of government procurement, e-commerce, trade facilitation, and investment facilitation. The workshops were organized in collaboration with Ecuador, Chile  and the United States.

Ambassador Gunnarsson further announced that the co-chairs intend to conduct consultations to decide on the format and content of the work ahead, including on MC13 outcomes. “2023 should be a year for us to design and develop a long-term work programme that would include concrete actions to be undertaken and set specific deadlines for implementation,” he added.

Ambassador Ana Patricia Benedetti Zelaya of El Salvador reported on the workshop “Gender Equality and the Private Sector: The Business Case of Trade and Gender,” which emphasized the role of digitalization in facilitating small business exports. The workshop also outlined several policy solutions to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on female entrepreneurs. “During the workshop, we have learned that women represent one in three growth-oriented entrepreneurs worldwide. We also learned that firms led by women export less than firms led by men because they are more challenged when it comes to navigating foreign regulations and acquiring the necessary skills to start exporting,” she noted. “Presenters also highlighted the role of large companies to prioritise inclusion within their supply chains and the need to improve digital trade facilitation,” she added.

Several WTO observers, representatives from the private sector, and academia gave presentations on issues related to women and digitalisation, female exporters, links between free trade agreements, disability and gender.

Reporting on the work carried out by the WTO Secretariat, Anoush der Boghossian, Head of the Trade and Gender Unit, said a publication with some of the research papers presented at the World Trade Congress on Gender held on December 5-7. 2022 will be released in 2023 as well as a full report highlighting the new data and findings discussed at the event.

The Secretariat will also continue to organise the trade and gender capacity-building programme for government officials, which will be expanded to other stakeholders such as parliamentarians and women entrepreneurs in 2024, in line with the WTO Technical Assistance Plan. Activities of the WTO Gender Research Hub will continue in 2023 with the development of a two-year action plan that includes the organization of a youth symposium in November 2023, focusing on young professionals in academia and governments, as a milestone event before the second edition of the World Trade Congress on Gender in December 2024.

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