The EU is committed to gender equality and sustainable development. These values are in our DNA, in our founding principles, and they should be a natural part of our trade policy as well. For me, trade is about being open: About broadening horizons and opportunities, about bringing down barriers and empowering people. That means that we want more women involved in the labour market here in Europe, and we want to support women's economic independence around the world.

Trade and trade policy play an important role here. As entrepreneurs and workers, women can benefit from better access to global markets, and as consumers they benefit from lower prices. Still, many challenges and inequalities are hampering women's participation in the global economy.

Today, we are exploring further how trade policy and gender equality are linked and how trade can promote women's economic empowerment at the International Forum on Women and Trade, organised by the European Commission and the International Trade Centre (ITC) .

Participants come from all over the world, including Director-General of the World Trade Organization Roberto Azevêdo, Canadian Minister of International Trade François-Philippe Champagne, Kenya's Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed and Danish Minister of Equality Karen Elleman. They are joined by a range of prominent speakers from government, the European Parliament, business, civil society and international organisations. Female entrepreneurs share their stories about the hurdles they are facing and to share best practices for how to overcome them.

Today, we are also discussing issues such as the role of technology and financing in supporting women entrepreneurs. The forum also reflects on how trade-related technical assistance can help bring women entrepreneurs into value chains. The ITC’s SheTrades initiative is one such tool which aims to connect one million women to markets by 2020.

We are also analysing what more we can do as policy makers. Policies related to the digital economy or public procurement may affect women and men differently. So, even if our policies are gender-neutral, they may not be gender-sensitive. In trade policy, there are several things we can do to address this. We could  include a chapter on gender in our bilateral free trade agreements, for instance. Chile already does so in its agreements with Uruguay and Canada, strengthening coordination and oversight of women's issues within trade. We are soon launching our own talks with Santiago, and are aiming to include a gender chapter in our agreement too as a pilot project. 

In particular, trade in services is often connected to the movement of people, with rules on qualifications and licences. Those measures should not discriminate against women. We fully support the recent proposal of Canada in thos field. We also provide over 12 billion euros a year in aid for trade, boosting capacity and infrastructure to help countries trade and develop out of poverty. But perhaps here, too, we can sharpen the focus on gender issues. We can include women's groups as we formulate these programmes, and maximise the impact on equality and empowerment.

To really understand the issue, we need better data and better input. We systematically consider gender when we assess the impact of our trade deals, ut often a lack of data means it isn't as detailed or as rigorous as it could be. Today we launch our first quantitative assessment of trade, jobs and gender: in particular, on how EU exports support jobs for women across Europe. And how our policies can best support them.

This year's upcoming progress report on the EU Trade for All strategy will also focus on these issues, as will our future work in the WTO, including as we prepare for this year's ministerial conference.

So today's forum is a good opportunity to learn from each other – to share ideas, experience and evidence. And to start transforming these into concrete action.

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