Trade and gender

Trade and gender

As the UK develops its independent trade policy over the coming years it has the capacity to rethink its approach to trade and investment policy, and to bring a genuinely gender-reponsive approach to its negotiations with partner countries at the bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral level.

The UK government could show global leadership by ensuring its trade agreements are compatible with its gender equality obligations, support its gender equality goals, and enable the UK and partner countries to transition to a gender-just economy.

Action to address the gendered impacts of trade policy is urgent. Trade agreements need to play a part in addressing the economic disadvantages that women continue to face worldwide.

Ruth Bergan, Director of the Trade Justice Movement on the occasion of International Women's Day 2023
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Gap between trade rethoric and action

In December 2017, 118 World Trade Organisation (WTO) members supported a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. This is the first WTO declaration to focus on gender.

Some countries have also begun to include gender chapters in their bilateral trade agreements and there is a renewed dialogue on how trade rules can support women entrepreneurs and stimulate inclusive growth. These moves have been paralleled by an increased recognition that trade policy has implications for gender equality.

International action to address the gendered impacts of trade policy is both urgent and welcome. The initiatives outlined above suggest a recognition that trade rules and agreements need to play a part in addressing the economic disadvantages that women continue to face worldwide.

However there is a wide gap between the rhetoric about trade, inclusive growth and women’s economic empowerment and genuine action to develop a trade policy that is compatible with a transition towards an economy that benefits women and men equally.

Gender-responsive trade policy

If the UK government is to develop a genuinely gender-responsive trade policy it must move beyond the symbolism of WTO declarations and support for entrepreneurs. Instead, it must bring a feminist analysis to the entirety of its trade policy so that the provisions of trade and investment agreements are designed to support gender equality goals. This should include:

1. Making trade rules subordinate to and designed to support national and international commitments to achieving gender justice.

2. Undertaking full gender impact assessments in a timely manner and their findings must have legal weight in the development of mandates, agreements and implementation.

3. Excluding investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms and other special courts for investors from trade and investment agreements.

4. Ensuring trade agreements do not increase women’s unpaid domestic and care work burden by guaranteeing that governments are not compelled to liberalise, or prevented from renationalising, public services.

5. Ensuring trade agreements do not undermine small-scale farmers and food sovereignty in the UK and partner countries.

6. Ensuring trade agreements are transparent and democratic.

7. Making a commitment not to re-negotiate the EU Economic Partnership Agreements with developing countries. The UK should instead develop its unilateral preference scheme so that it is supportive of development, regional integration and human rights goals.

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