Press Release | 27 Apr. 2020

Women in Trade Can Reinvigorate the WTO and the Global Economy

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And anyone who has looked at the global economic forecast lately is probably willing to consider a few ways to ensure that GDP growth doesn’t slow to a grinding halt.


Thankfully, there is a way to promote increased prosperity that will be widely shared by all through increased exports, more jobs, greater consumer choice and a broader, more diversified supplier network. Rather than allow a slowdown, we can supercharge the global economy by unlocking the power of women entrepreneurs and ensuring they can trade their products around the world.


As the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 notes, there is a “strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its economic performance.” Further, the report highlights that “countries that want to remain competitive and inclusive will need to make gender equality a critical part of their nation’s human capital development.”3


Women’s Economic Empowerment Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do — It’s the Smart Thing, Too


The McKinsey Global Institute says the world would experience a $28 trillion — or 26 percent — increase4 in GDP if men and women were to participate equally in the global economy, making women’s economic empowerment a logical first step to unleash real growth around the world.

Much of that potential, however, remains untapped if not everyone is given equal access to engaging in international trade.

In many economies, women disproportionally face obstacles to owning and growing their own businesses, despite the significant economic payback their empowerment brings in terms of job creation, poverty alleviation and economic growth. New global commercial trends such as e-commerce have allowed companies of all sizes to tap into international business and trade like never before, spurring job growth and stability for their domestic economy. Much of that potential, however, remains untapped if not everyone is given equal access to engaging in international trade. In the words of the World Bank, “An economy cannot operate at its full potential if half of its population cannot fully contribute to it.”5


On a macro level, women’s entrepreneurship and exports can drive growth and economic success, as illustrated by the fact that women-owned businesses that export6 are more productive, employ more workers, pay higher wages and report higher-than-average sales. On a micro level, this suggests that increasing export participation by women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs may be one route to expanding the middle class and boosting household incomes, especially in developing countries.


If we ensure all people have equal access to the right tools, we can empower women entrepreneurs and open the door to proven catalysts for economic growth. In this regard, we need to build the case for which areas of trade must be addressed in order for individual women and the collective global economy to benefit, and how women’s economic empowerment could be addressed through creative and flexible negotiating tools.


While the law should be the last word on gender parity, we know that secular and religious norms and traditions are often more influential.7 That said, changing the law can be an important first step toward this economic and moral imperative. Additionally, while trade and entrepreneurship are not the only ways to contribute to the economy, they are opportunities for women to independently sustain themselves and their families. Empowering women to build their own businesses and to trade allows them to succeed despite well-documented workplace discrimination and inequality.8 Society and its institutions should continue to fight discrimination against women in the workplace, and entrepreneurship is not a substitute for workplace equality. However, women deserve another option — and one that provides even greater individual9 and societal benefits than traditional employment.


How to Advance Women’s Entrepreneurship and Participation in the Global Marketplace.


In order to truly lead a business, a woman needs to be able to establish and own her business outright, access financial tools to invest in its growth, and freely meet with suppliers and customers, be they on the other side of town or the other side of the world. This puts a premium on women’s rights to entrepreneurship, rights to ownership (assets) and freedom of movement (mobility).


Sixty WTO members and observers — representing more than 84 percent of global GDP — have gender-equal legal rights in these three categories, but domestic changes will not drive the exponential growth that global adoption of these freedoms could precipitate. For this reason, the WTO is uniquely positioned to take action in order to bolster women’s participation in the global marketplace and allow the world to benefit from the resulting prosperity. The following list illustrates the variety of ways in which the WTO can explicitly promote gender equality in trade.


The WTO is uniquely positioned to take action in order to bolster women’s participation in the global marketplace and allow the world to benefit from the resulting prosperity.



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