Gen­der equal­ity is a wel­come ad­di­tion to trade agree­ments

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - OPINION - CRAIG ALEXAN­DER BAR­BARA MacLAREN Craig Alexan­der is se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and chief econ­o­mist of the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada. Bar­bara MacLaren is a gen­der spe­cial­ist at the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada.

While the global econ­omy has prof­ited enor­mously from in­creased trade and in­vest­ment, there is greater aware­ness to­day about the un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of the gains. That is why Canada has in­cluded gen­der-equal­ity pro­vi­sions into the ne­go­ti­a­tions of a re­vised North Amer­i­can free-trade agree­ment. This is im­por­tant not only from a rights per­spec­tive, but also be­cause a coun­try’s abil­ity to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally and un­lock the full po­ten­tial of trade is con­strained when gen­der in­equal­ity is high. Men and women are of­ten not on equal foot­ing when it comes to ben­e­fit­ing from free-trade agree­ments. Trade lib­er­al­iza­tion can ex­ac­er­bate ex­ist­ing gen­der in­equal­i­ties. Glob­ally, women ac­count for 70 per cent of those liv­ing in ex­treme poverty. In turn, poor women are less likely to have the ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing to ben­e­fit from new jobs cre­ated through trade. They are even less likely to be able to launch a busi­ness that sells goods to for­eign buy­ers. More­over, oc­cu­pa­tions con­tinue to be gen­der seg­re­gated. Take the ser­vices sec­tor: Women usu­ally dom­i­nate in ser­vices, but un­til re­cently, it has been shielded from trade lib­er­al­iza­tion. Men tend to be more em­ployed in tra­di­tional ex­port sec­tors – such as nat­u­ral re­sources, agri­cul­ture and man­u­fac­tur­ing. Fe­male en­trepreneurs of­ten run small firms that have less ac­cess to pro­duc­tive re­sources, cap­i­tal and net­works, com­pared with sim­i­lar-sized firms run by men. This means fe­male en­trepreneurs are at a dis­ad­van­tage in ex­ploit­ing new trade-re­lated op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ex­perts have iden­ti­fied sev­eral ar­eas as need­ing im­prove­ment in any new free-trade agree­ment. Th­ese in­clude: the scarcity of labour pro­tec­tions to re­duce dis­crim­i­na­tion fac­ing fe­male work­ers; the lack of mea­sures to bet­ter in­te­grate women into pub­lic and pri­vate pro­cure­ment chains; and the male-ori­ented list of busi­ness pro­fes­sions in the labour-mo­bil­ity pro­vi­sions in NAFTA. Tack­ling the gen­der im­bal­ance in a mod­ern­ized NAFTA needs to be more than sym­bolic. There are many ways that Canada can give the gen­der-equal­ity agenda some teeth. First, Canada should push for a gen­der and trade chap­ter that cre­ates a gen­der com­mit­tee in each NAFTA coun­try. The chap­ter needs to in­clude spe­cific, achiev­able ob­jec­tives, such as those in the up­dated Canada-Chile free-trade agree­ment. For ex­am­ple, a gen­der and trade chap­ter in NAFTA could in­clude com­mit­ments by all three coun­tries to track and mon­i­tor gen­der-equal­ity is­sues through their re­spec­tive gen­der com­mit­tees, with the goal of re­duc­ing ex­ist­ing gen­der dis­par­i­ties. Th­ese com­mit­tees will need ad­e­quate fi­nan­cial re­sources to un­der­take analysis and carry out out­reach ac­tiv­i­ties. Sec­ond, a mod­ern­ized NAFTA should in­clude more spe­cific lan­guage around the gen­der is­sues at hand. One way of do­ing this is to spec­ify “pri­or­ity gen­der is­sues” for each of the mem­ber coun­tries. Stat­ing the pri­or­ity is­sues in a gen­der and trade chap­ter would min­i­mize mul­ti­ple in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the new chap­ter fol­low­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion. An­other equally im­por­tant way to make progress would be to eval­u­ate the var­i­ous NAFTA chap­ters, and where it makes sense, up­date ap­pli­ca­ble sec­tions of the agree­ment based on a gen­der analysis. This analysis is very fea­si­ble for the North Amer­i­can Agree­ment on Labour Co-op­er­a­tion (NAALC), as there are well-es­tab­lished prin­ci­ples in in­ter­na­tional labour con­ven­tions around anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion. It is straight­for­ward to track and an­a­lyze gen­der in­equal­ity us­ing sex-dis­ag­gre­gated labour­force data, al­low­ing for an eval­u­a­tion of progress against th­ese types of ob­jec­tives. Third, there are sev­eral com­ple­men­tary chan­nels to en­sure that th­ese free-trade-agree­ment in­no­va­tions do not fall short. Th­ese in­clude: in­creased fund­ing for co-op­er­a­tion and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance aimed at re­duc­ing gen­der in­equal­ity in North Amer­i­can work­places and labour mar­kets; bet­ter en­force­ment of labour rights (such as the treat­ment of preg­nant work­ers); bet­ter sup­ports for fe­male en­trepreneurs and busi­ness own­ers; and shar­ing ef­fec­tive prac­tices in ad­vanc­ing gen­der equal­ity. As the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada re­cently high­lighted in a re­port on sup­plier di­ver­sity this year, Canada, the United States and Mex­ico could also fo­cus on more ef­fec­tive in­volve­ment of women-owned en­ter­prises into pub­lic and pri­vate pro­cure­ment chains. Fi­nally, pub­lic re­port­ing on the trade im­pacts of the new NAFTA could be en­hanced. Pe­ri­odic NAFTA re­views – that in­clude a gen­der di­men­sion – would re­sult in greater trans­parency around what we’re do­ing where gen­der dis­par­i­ties ex­ist. While am­bi­tious, ev­ery­body wins if Canada man­ages to keep gen­der equal­ity on the ta­ble at the ne­go­ti­a­tions in Mex­ico City start­ing on Nov. 17.

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