Trade & investment

5 reasons why gender equality in trade matters

  • 11 December 2017
women trade mc11

Hopes are high for the launch of an historic Declaration on Trade and Gender at the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting taking place in Buenos Aires this week.

The declaration – if adopted – will seek to promote a more inclusive trade agenda by enabling more women to participate in international trade. But can trade benefit from increased participation of women? And, as we undertake efforts to achieve gender equality under the objectives of the United Nations Global Goals, is trade good for women?

As the world business organization we believe the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes”.

Here we put forward five reasons why gender is good for trade and highlight some of the barriers preventing women business owners from accessing international markets.

1 – Women in trade supports better jobs

According to research by the International Trade Centre (ITC), women-owned businesses that export employ an average of 42 people, compared with an average of only eight people employed by non-exporting women-owned businesses. Despite this, woman exporters face more trade obstacles than men, with 74% of woman-owned firms reporting challenging non-tariff measures compared to 54% of businesses owned by men. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said: “WTO Action is needed to better integrate women into the international trading system. All the evidence suggests that giving an equal economic chance to women is not only economically important; it results in beneficial outcomes for society as a whole.”

2 – Exporters pay better too…

The average pay by exporting women-owned businesses is over one-and-a-half times higher than the average pay of women-owned businesses that do not trade. All the more reason to take action to eliminate the stifling trade finance gap that women entrepreneurs in emerging markets face. ITC research shows this gap to be around US$260-320 billion per year. Speaking earlier this year at the International Forum on Women and Trade, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said: “Each woman who can benefit from trade is a woman who can open new markets and new opportunities, can sell and spread her ideas, and support her community and sometimes her whole village.”

3 – … and are more productive too!

Women-owned businesses that export are 3.5 times more productive than those which do not export. But while women own up to 40% of all small- and medium-sized enterprises globally, they lead only one in five exporting firms.
Frank Matsaert, CEO of TradeMark East Africa said: “70% of cross border traders in East Africa are women, meaning targeted intervention to enhance their trading opportunities is economically beneficial to the region.”

4 – Mind the gap

Research by Facebook, OECD and The World Bank suggests that online tools are used for significantly more purposes by women business owners than men. According to Intel Corporation’s Women and the Web report bringing women online would contribute up to USD 18 billion to the annual GDP of 144 developing countries. Yet, in this digital age, women have less access than men to the Internet in many countries. Estimates for 2016 point to a 12% gender gap, which jumps to 31% for least developed countries.

5 – A boost for the global economy

ITC Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez said: “Women and international trade is no longer the proverbial elephant in the room…If we are going to help push global growth, eradicate extreme poverty and create sustainable jobs we have to not only move this topic centre stage – we need to make it actionable.”

According to research by McKinsey, advancing women’s equality could add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025 and mean better development outcomes for families and communities worldwide. We believe facilitating the active participation of women in trade must be part of this pursuit given that women-owned export businesses report average sales of US$ 16.3 million, compared with US$816,000 for non-exporting women-owned businesses.

A panel on trade and gender features on the programme of a major Business Forum organised by the International Chamber of Commerce and the Government of Argentina on 12 December during the ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires.

Speaking from MC11, ICC Secretary General John Danilovich said: “Levelling the playing field for women to access international markets is not only the right thing to do but also the ‘smart thing’ to do for development, economic growth and business.”