Reshaping trade policies to close the gender trade gap

20 June 2017
ITC News
ITC Executive Director Arancha González opening remarks at the International Forum on Women and Trade
Brussels, Belgium - 20 June 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and welcome to this first International Forum on Women and Trade.

Thank you EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström for partnering with ITC to place women and international trade firmly at the global policymakers’ table. We know you are committed to this, as recently recognised by your “Woman of the Year” award from the Association of Women in International Trade.

Women and international trade is no longer the proverbial elephant in the room. We can’t afford that. If we are going to help push global growth, eradicate extreme poverty and create sustainable jobs we have to not only move this topic centre stage – we need to make it actionable.

Our shared global compact on this is the United Nations Global Development Goals which have helped to crystalize the complementarity of gender, trade and inclusive growth.

We are seeing Governments like Canada, Chile and Uruguay upgrading their free trade agreements to now include specific gender chapters. We are seeing Kenya and Rwanda pursuing economic policies supporting women economic empowerment.

We are also seeing positive signals from the G20, IMF and many other international organisations. And of course we have champions - many of whom are here today.

Today, we are here to answer just one question: how can we shape policy to facilitate opportunities for women in trade while ensuring women in trade benefit from these opportunities on the ground? I never said it would be a simple question. But it is one we cannot simply ignore or pretend does not exist. We have an obligation to answer.

Part of the answer will be with broad domestic policies – especially those related to unpaid care work or education. Part of the answer will be with Aid for Trade in the form of public and private support to build trade capacity. And we will have a good opportunity to discuss this in July at the Global Aid for Trade Review.

But part of the answer will also have to be with trade policy.

The overwhelming majority of women-owned firms are small and medium-sized (SMEs). Exporting helps SMEs improve their productivity. And improving productivity of small companies translates into more and better paying jobs, including at the bottom of the pyramid. The challenge is to help these millions of firms become exporting firms. And doing so bearing in mind the specific gaps faced by women entrepreneurs.

Today about one billion women are excluded from the global economy; never fully accessing nor benefitting from the trade opportunities that exist under our current trade regimes.

A closer look reveals the gap in the number of enterprises led by men compared to women. In a survey of 19,000 firms across 99 developing countries, only 36% were partially or wholly owned by women.

This already low share of women-led companies drops to a whopping 15% when we examine ownership of the number of exporting firms that are led by women.

We also find that women-owned companies are mostly confined to traditional industry sectors such as health care and social assistance, professional and educational services, administrative and support services and retail trade. In the United States for example, up to 64% of businesses in these traditional sectors are owned by women.

Meanwhile, American women-owned businesses in “high economic impact” or more profitable sectors such as construction, transportation, warehousing, manufacturing and wholesale trade continue to rank in the single or low double digits ranging between 3 – 18% depending on the industry. This trend is not unique to the United States nor is it unique to the North.

One area of trade where the constraints faced by women are particularly dismal is e-commerce. E-commerce is worth special mention because it is transforming the global business landscape at an unprecedented speed. Today, retail e-commerce sales are valued at about USD $2 trillion with a projected forecast of USD $4 trillion in 3 years from now.

However, there is a significant gender gap in the access and use of digital technology across all developing regions. More men than women own a mobile phone, and more men than women use the internet. On a global level, there is an 11 percent gender gap in internet use. In fact, 1.7 billion women in developing countries do not even own a mobile phone.

ITC’s analytical contribution to this year’s WTO Aid for Trade Global Review publication confirmed that women-managed firms are 12% less likely to use email than men-managed firms. 40% of women cite lack of familiarity or comfort with technology stemming from limited or no digital training in early stages of education as a reason. In developing countries women are 8% less likely to have access to the Internet than men. The discussions we will have later today on how to leverage the digital economy for economic benefits to women will be particularly useful in this context.

Women in trade and SMEs are two sides of the same coin. Competitiveness and trade are two sides of the same coin. Women’s economic empowerment and inclusive growth are two sides of the same coin.

Today’s question comes down to the bridge between policy and practice. We have had some insights from the Commissioner about policy levers which are being pursued by the European Commission and its partners and we will certainly hear about this in our first panel.

In terms of the practice, the ITC has been very active on this front, particularly through our SheTrades Initiative, which is one of many good practices which we will be discussed in greater detail during the four thematic breakout sessions.

SheTrades is a call to action for stakeholders to help connect one million women to market by 2020. To date we have launched SheTrades in over 10 countries around the world from Kenya and Rwanda to Colombia and Chile to Pakistan and Philippines – garnering commitments to connect over 800,000 women to market. There are another 10 countries in the pipeline. All registered women-led companies benefit from e-learning courses, mentoring sessions, webinars and guidebooks on topics such as negotiation skills, e-commerce and market analysis, product design, business development advice and training, information on new technology and potential markets. Opportunities to attend trade fairs and exhibitions within the SheTrades delegations are also offered.

Secondly, SheTrades is also digital platform for women entrepreneurs. Women can sign up and create profiles online which showcase their goods and services, build new business contacts and strike deals in real time. Business networks are one of the most pivotal resources an enterprise can leverage for growth. When we consider that many larger companies oftentimes are unaware of where or how to find women suppliers, the SheTrades app or Shetrades.com helps provide a response.

Finally, SheTrades is also an agenda with seven pillars of action to improve women’s participation in trade.

It is about improving gender disaggregated data which can inform better trade policies. And today, only about 41 governments collect sex-disaggregated data about women’s participation in the economy. It is about opening up opportunities through government procurement and corporate supplier diversity.

It is about improving access to finance, addressing supply-side constraints and improving women’s ownership rights. All of these will be part of our discussions over the day.

Today promises to be an interesting day of discussions, learning about good practices and gaining perspective for next steps to take. I encourage you to actively engage with the panellists and each other to get us talking about the right mix of policy and actions that will help us move closer to inclusive trade.

Thank you.