In times of increasing protectionism around the world, it is important to remember how well-designed trade policies can not only boost our economies but also make our societies more equal. Enabling people to broaden their horizons and expand their business opportunities in international markets does not just make economic sense, but is also useful for promoting women's empowerment.

This is especially pertinent to remember today, on International Women's Day. In our latest trade and jobs report, we saw that 14 million women across the EU are in jobs supported by trade, of an overall 36 million. Our research also shows that jobs linked to international trade are on average 12% better paid. Championing women and removing barriers to women's engagement in the global market economy have been core objectives of my mandate as EU Trade Commissioner.

This is why we welcomed the International Trade Centre's SheTrades initiative – a scheme to support the integration of female entrepreneurs into global value chains. By 2021, the initiative hopes to have connected three million women to markets and would represent a significant accomplishment in global efforts to support female economic empowerment.

There remain clear structural barriers that stop women making the most of the possibilities afforded by international trade. These include discrimination in public procurement policies or difficulties that women face in getting access to capital. We need to engage in a constructive debate to ensure that we can tackle these issues in Europe and beyond.

Here in the EU, we have already made large strides towards unlocking the potential of trade for women. For example, in our negotiations for a new, modernised trade agreement with Chile we have agreed to include dedicated provisions trade and gender equality  – an EU first.

The EU and Canada have agreed to cooperate to increase women’s access to and benefit from the opportunities created by the EU-Canada agreement (CETA). This shows possibilities to advance women’s economic empowerment in the agreements that are already in force.

Making sure trade policy is gender-sensitive means acknowledging and addressing the ways in which economic policies may affect men and women differently. This is why we now consider gender equality in our evaluations for all our trade agreements – both before and after we sign on the dotted line. 

Trade with the EU is already transforming women’s lives all over the world. I recently returned from a trip to Cape Town where I co-chaired the first Joint Council for the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) Economic Partnership Agreement. While in South Africa, I met some extraordinary female entrepreneurs in the wine sector, such as Denise Stubbs of Thokozani Wine Estate. She and others made it clear how trade with the EU was an integral part of their business model, helping to empower women through female ownership.

Gender equality is one of the EU’s founding principles. Through trade, we can help spread these values beyond our borders. For example, in order to benefit from our trade preference schemes, we ask that vulnerable and least developed economies ratify and put into action the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This issue is at the heart of our values-based trade policy. By linking to enhanced access to the EU market with these principles of gender equality, we are using our trade to encourage countries to make positive changes.

These are just some examples of how the EU is promoting gender equality through trade. On International Women’s Day it is important to reflect on these successes. Yet it is also important to use days like these as a stimulus to redouble our efforts in the future. Whilst women’s participation in the global economy is still restricted it is clear our work is not done. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that trade is a big part of the solution.



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