Just a few days ago we celebrated International Women’s Day and Commonwealth Day, it is therefore an opportune time to think about how the UK can promote trade and investment opportunities in order to empower women across the Commonwealth. The June 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda, will be a fantastic opportunity for the UK to build on its Global Britain agenda.
When it comes to international trade, there is a clear advantage in being part of the Commonwealth. Yet, for this advantage to be realised, governments, private sector and international organisations need to work hand in hand to level the playing field.
Today, despite encouraging progress at multilateral and domestic levels, women still face higher barriers to entry to international trade compared to their male counterparts. Concerted efforts are needed to improve the business and policy ecosystem, boost women led enterprises’ competitiveness and connect them to markets. 2020 is the year to scale up our ambition.
The Commonwealth Advantage and women in trade
Commonwealth countries are more likely to trade and invest with each other, than they are with the rest of the world. Commonwealth members, collectively, are less protectionist than other countries. Reduced trade costs and similarities in business, regulatory and administrative systems underpin the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’. According to the International Monetary Fund’s forecasts, nine out of the top 25 fastest growing economies are Commonwealth countries. This demonstrates the trade potential of the group.
Around the world we see clear evidence of how the UK’s development budget is stimulating job creation and economic growth, helping to nurture new businesses and grow them into potential export partners. A good example in my constituency is JCB which has a local manufacturing plant in Hixon in Staffordshire, from which they export generators to numerous countries in Africa. By creating more opportunities for local businesses to export to emerging markets we can create more jobs in Stafford. This business model can be replicated across the world to provide exporting opportunities.
So how do women do in international trade? The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) large scale surveys, illustrate the extent of the challenge. They estimate that only one out of five exporting companies is women led. This disparity does not only occur developing countries, but also across Europe. Women led enterprises are generally concentrated in less dynamic sectors than male led ones and fewer women led enterprises are involved in both import and export. When it comes to employment, job segregation means that women tend to work in lower paid jobs.
What are the reasons for this disadvantage? Women face unequal access to finance, skills, property and business networks. While some of their disadvantages can be explained by the fact that women often run smaller businesses, other barriers to entry are gender specific.