Do gender issues belong in a trade agreement? “Yes!”, says Canada.

The updated Canada – Chile Free Trade Agreement contains a gender chapter, the first of its kind for a G-20 country. And Canada has proposed that a gender chapter also be included in re-negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This chapter would be modeled along the lines of the one in the Canada-Chile FTA.

Why do gender issues belong in a trade agreement? Let’s take a look at the provisions of the Canada-Chile FTA gender chapter, in which the Parties –

  • Acknowledge the importance of incorporating a gender perspective into the promotion of inclusive economic growth.
  • Acknowledge the importance of improving women’s access to opportunities and removing barriers to their participation in international trade and investment as engines of economic growth.
  • Agree to cooperate in implementing activities designed to improve the capacity and conditions of all women workers, businesswomen and entrepreneurs to fully benefit from the opportunities created by the Agreement.
  • Agree to establish a Trade and Gender Committee to implement agreed-upon activities, to consult on issues regarding interpretation and application of the chapter, and to exclude the chapter’s provisions from dispute settlement.

The underlying premise to the chapter is that without the intention to achieve otherwise, most of the gains from trade agreements go to the “usual winners”. This failure to recognize that trade agreements are not “neutral” in this respect is what has fueled the anti-trade rhetoric, even as consumers benefit from the cheaper goods and services now available because of trade.

Nor are women the only winners of incorporating a gender perspective into negotiating and implementing trade agreements. It is impossible to address the barriers that face all women without also taking into consideration the needs of people across all sectors and strata of society.