Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada West | EU-Canada international trade and gender equality
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Schermata 2020 10 12 Alle 14.57.13

24 Oct EU-Canada international trade and gender equality

In the context of CETA, the EU and Canada are working to promote the participation of women in international trade and to know what impact trade agreements can have on female businesses and workers.


Do free trade treaties have an impact on gender equality?


Undoubtedly, policies for the liberalization of international trade can promote better employment conditions in some sectors, in wages and working conditions, support exports and expand the prospects of small businesses.


It is also true that a progressive liberalization of trade can exert pressure on sensitive groups, such as women workers and entrepreneurs, in some sectors and in specific geographical contexts.


According to available data (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2016), small businesses or farms, often run by women, can be adversely affected by international competition. On the other hand, as consumers, women and their families benefit from lower prices resulting from trade liberalization.


In the EU, over 10 million women were employed in 2014 thanks to exports of goods and services to the rest of the world, but the share of jobs created by women through trade was lower than that of men (38%). This share is even lower in Italy (33%).



Jobs supported by EU exports – Source: European Commissione – EU exports to the world: effects on employment

European Union, trade policies and women’s empowerment


Given these premises, the European Union has established specific mechanisms to strengthen the work of women and monitor the gender impact of its trade policies.


The EU objective, stated several times also in official documents, is to promote equality between men and women, helping to create an international environment to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals 5 and 8 of the UN 2030 agenda, namely the equality, decent work and economic growth.


GOAL 2030: eliminate forms of violence and discrimination against women, including traditional harmful practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation. Ensure gender equity in access to the world of work and political representation.





GOAL 2030: Decent and equitable employment for men and women globally.








In this regard, in 2015 the Council adopted “Measures for gender equality and women’s empowerment: transforming the lives of girls and women through EU external relations 2016-2020”, a joint working document which calls on the European Union to analyze the impacts of international trade on gender equality in the context of trade negotiations, as a tool to improve access to decent work for women of all ages.


All trade agreements concluded by the EU always include attention to its impacts on human rights and,  in particular, gender equality, including by facilitating the monitoring role of civil society and collaboration with international organizations committed to the same objectives.


According to the Guidelines adopted in 2015, the Commission systematically analyzes the possible impact of trade agreements signed by the EU on women in third countries, as regards for example the impacts on the amount of employment or on the working conditions of men and women (health and safety at work, etc.) and income inequalities.


In March 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on gender equality in trade agreements on its own initiative, based on a report jointly drafted by the committees on international trade (INTA) and women’s rights and gender equality (FEMM).

The resolution:

  • Stresses that all EU trade agreements must include an applicable chapter on security and sustainable development and calls for the inclusion in these agreements of core labor standards and other international instruments on women’s rights
  • Calls for effective measures to combat the exploitation of women in export-oriented industries
  • Stresses the need to collect gender disaggregated data on the impact of trade
  • It also calls for the strengthening of corporate social responsibility and due diligence in free trade agreements


The joint EU-CANADA activity of the CETA Joint Committee: “Working together to advance trade and gender”


The European Union and Canada, and in particular within the framework of CETA, are also working jointly to strengthen gender equality in the context of international trade.


The CETA Joint Committee adopted, at its first meeting in Montreal, Canada, on 26 September 2018, a Recommendation on trade and gender which recognizes the importance of making trade policies and agreements more gender inclusive for promoting economic growth for the benefit of all.


For the first time, and thanks to CETA, a framework is provided for Canada and the EU to engage in collaboration on trade and gender issues, and concrete contact points are then established to oversee this work, provide advice, and report on progress.


 Canada is undoubtedly an advanced partner in the field of human rights protection and gender equality in particular.


Taking up the data on export-favored employment mentioned above and broadening the look at a non-EU context, it can be seen that in 2014, over 6000 female jobs were produced thanks to EU exports of goods and services to the rest of the world.


Again, the proportion of jobs created for women through trade was lower than that of men (35%), a share that rises to 39% in the case of Canada.


Extra-EU jobs supported by EU exports – Source: European Commission – EU exports to the world: effects on employment


Based on the adopted recommendation, Europe and Canada have set to work to implement a business plan whose objectives are:

  • better understand the genderrelated effects of international trade
  • share information on ways to reduce barriers to women’s participation in international trade


EU-Canada joint activities


There are mainly 3 fronts that see Canada and the European Union engaged on trade and gender.


1. Activities towards Canadian – EU policy makers and decision makers


The exchange of knowledge, experience and best practices is among the activities considered necessary to create an effective cooperation area in promoting women’s participation in international trade.

The 3 videoconferences held in 2019 focused on the discussion of reciprocal policies on gender equality and support programs for women entrepreneurs, as well as the experiences of impact assessments of trade agreements on both an ex ante and ex post basis.


2. Stakeholder engagement (including women’s businesses)


The Recommendation is also producing the first effects regarding the involvement of stakeholders and female-owned businesses, to learn about the challenges and opportunities that affect them closely. In 2019 the EU and Canada worked together organizing 1 round table, 1 seminar, and a discussion on trade and gender during the CETA Civil Society Forum (CSF), as well as 2 webinars hosted by UN Women in the context of the WE EMPOWER project, funded by the EU.


The EU also hosted the Trade for Her conference which examined the results of the study conducted by the International Trade Center on barriers for women in the European Union who are engaged in international trade:


in 2017, more than 13 million female workers in the EU had a job thanks to exports of goods and services to the rest of the world but there is still a gender gap regarding the employment prospects offered by extra-EU exports to women.


Canadian officials attended the conference, and the Canadian Ambassador to Italy addressed a panel on developing gender-sensitive trade deals.


3. Canada – EU collaboration in multilateral fora


Thanks to shared goals with CETA in promoting gender-sensitive trade agreements, Canada and the EU were invited by Iceland, Botswana, WTO, UNCTAD and the Center for International Trade to participate in a WTO seminar on the role trade agreements in promoting gender equality.


CETA, trade and gender equality. What results?


It is premature to say that CETA creates more opportunities and therefore benefits for women in accessing international trade.


However, Canada and the EU have certainly taken a step forward on the issue of Trade and Gender, recognizing the importance of confronting each other, exchanging information and experiences, collecting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative data and evidence.


Effective policies and programs can only start from understanding whether the benefits really exist and what challenges female businesses face in trying to exploit the opportunities created by CETA.


In the last two years, over 20 documents have been shared between Canada and the EU.


It means that we have acquired:


  • a know-how of information on wage equity and the gender gap
  • data and reports on female entrepreneurship and women in commerce
  • work initiatives to increase the number of women in STEM
  • guidance materials on conducting impact assessments of trade agreements and more


These documents can inspire further action in the Canadian or European context. That’s what we all hope for.


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