Using the power of APEC to advance women in trade

7 December 2011
ITC News

Women are a significant force in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a forum for 21 Pacific-rim countries and the primary vehicle for promoting open trade and practical economic cooperation in the region. Despite advances made since the first APEC meetings in 1989, which has contributed to the participation of 600 million women in the workforce across APEC’s member economies today, APEC has lacked a mechanism for engaging women from the private and public sectors in top-level dialogue – until this year. In September in San Francisco, the United States (this year’s APEC host country) organized the inaugural APEC Women in the Economy Summit. At the conference, over 700 private-sector leaders and government officials discussed the inclusion of women in the workforce as an economic growth strategy. The High Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy led to recommendations for concrete policies to increase women’s participation in the region. The resulting San Francisco Declaration calls on officials within APEC to take action on women’s access to capital, domestic and international markets, capacity and skills building, and leadership positions.

Why focus on women?

United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that women business owners are a powerful force. Women head more than half a million small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia; in South Korea, that number is over 300,000. In China, women head 20% of all small businesses and close to 20% of those employ more than 1,000 people. While this demonstrates that women are serious players in the economy, Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador at Large on Global Women’s Issues, noted that ‘collectively, the 21 countries of the Asia-Pacific region lose between US$ 42 billion to US$ 46 billion of GDP annually by not tapping into women’s economic potential.’

A way forward 

The APEC Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy (PPWE) launched in San Francisco presents a way to remove obstacles to trade that women face. It combines the power of the APEC Gender Focal Point Network and the APEC Women Leaders Network, creating a single public-private entity to streamline and elevate the influence of women’s issues within APEC.

As a next step, the San Francisco Declaration calls on officials to ‘identify and report to APEC senior officials, programmes, including supplier diversity and technical assistance initiatives, that represent best practices of multinational enterprises, governments and SMEs that remove the barriers for women business owners and entrepreneurs, including rural and indigenous women, to obtain up-to-date information on the regulatory environments in APEC economies, and identify and take advantage of domestic or international market opportunities.’ In addition, it calls for officials to ‘identify networks and associations that can assist women to access business connections and distribution channels.’

Trade Forum readers can contribute examples by contacting their APEC representative or the APEC Secretariat at info [at] apec.org.