Regional Trade Agreements and Gender

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When delegates got down to the discussion on Day 1 of the Gender and Development Forum, one of the panels dealt with how regional trade agreements affect gender. In the spotlight were trade agreements in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.

Dr. Edme Dominguez

Panellist Dr. Edme Dominguez of Women in Development Europe+ (WIDE+) and Gender and Development in Practice (GADIP) began the discussion, speaking on the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, a regional integration process initially established by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and subsequently joined by Venezuela and Bolivia.

In setting the context for this regional trade agreement, Dr. Dominguez reported that since the 1980s more and more women are forced to enter the labour market in order to make ends meet, and education levels among women had increased. She noted that in 2018, 52 % of women of working age participated in the labour market.

She explained that these developments coincided with the phenomenon of the feminisation of labour in the export market for many Latin American countries, where women were employed in low-wage export jobs. By 2001, all Latin American countries had joined the World Trade Organization, so she asked what was the point of negotiating the free trade agreement. In her words, apart from increasing exports was also to attract foreign investment for industrialized countries.

According to her, from the EU side, “more than 450 organizations are engaged in a huge campaign against the agreement.”

Maureen Penjueli

Maureen Penjueli, Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), spoke on the post-Cotonou Agreement. She outlined how the African Caribbean and Pacific states had preferential access to the European market, which is one of the largest in the world, because of their status as former colonies of the European countries. Ms. Penjueli added that this post-colonial relationship has guided EU and ACP for a long time.

She said the relationship changed from preferential quota-free access to the European Union market and was replaced by free-trade agreements such as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Ms. Penjueli said that the EU pushed the EPA quite heavily in the Cotonou Agreement.

She added that the post-Cotonou Agreement is just an extension of the Cotonou Agreement, and explained that negotiations started in 2018, and just concluded in 2020. The Agreement was initialled in April 2021. She said therefore it was still new in many ways, and that it was difficult to analyse what the impact would be. However, she pointed to two particular aspects of the Agreement – it is binding for 20 years, and there are three regional protocols which are specific to the context of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Nadira Bayat

Nadira Bayat, Gender and Trade Consultant with UN Women, looked at the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). She asserted that there were tremendous opportunities inherent in the AfCFTA.

Ms. Bayat added that building on interventions at the regional economic community level, African governments and policymakers were supporting inclusive AfCFTA implementation through gender mainstreaming in national implementation strategies. She said that governments were doing this alone, and with the support from development partners, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

The ultimate aim of these interventions was to implement gender-responsive policy reforms, gender-responsive trade facilitation measures and other comprehensive measures to enable women and women-led businesses to harness the opportunities of the AfCFTA.

Diyana Yahaya

Diyana Yahaya, Gender and Trade Coalition member (GTC), addressed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). She started by saying that, “We live in a time where there is an endless proliferation of trade agreements.”

Ms. Yahaya said these agreements took many forms – bi-lateral, plurilateral, regional and multilateral. She said that all of these agreements have particular implications for women and girls from developing and least developed countries.

She explained that the RCEP involves countries which are part of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) and five of their main trading partners. It was signed at the end of last year. Ms. Yahaya pointed out that the negotiations had taken place virtually, and had raised a lot of questions regarding the process. She said, “These were spaces that were traditionally never open to civil society or women’s rights organisations, but you find that these spaces have shrunk tremendously when it moved virtually as well as online.”

Dr. Michelle Maziwisa of the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) served as moderator for the session.

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