Trade important for innovation, women economic empowerment: DG WTO

Published : 30 Sep 2023 09:50 PM

The role of trade in supporting women-led small businesses, addressing climate change and fostering innovation was highlighted by Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at a workshop.

Informal Working Group on MSMEs, the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender, and the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) jointly organised the workshop on 28 September. 

“Coming together and coordinating action is important for building strength and carrying our work forward more efficiently … as the WTO works towards greater inclusivity,” she said.

In her opening remarks, the DG said that understanding, and eliminating, the barriers holding women back from entrepreneurship and participation in international trade is urgent. “We must really unpack the solutions,” she stressed.

The DG noted that one-third of global businesses are owned, or led, by women, with women entrepreneurs mostly owning and leading micro enterprises. “One-third is a significant share of global companies, but it's nowhere near parity with men-owned businesses,” she said. She stressed in particular the challenges facing women when they try to register businesses or access finance.

DG Okonjo-Iweala said: “Climate change is here, and we are already in a world where we are looking to technology and entrepreneurs to help find the way to navigate these changes and find more sustainable ways of living.”

The DG outlined some gender-biased misconceptions, such as the belief that women are less suitable for entrepreneurship, that they lack skills and the ability to innovate. 

“We must correct these thoughts and assertions by creating and making available to women-led trade enterprises the tools they need and appropriate responses, particularly regarding digital applications and trade finance,” she said.

Entitled “Women-led MSMEs, Trade and Climate Change — Adapting and Investing for the Future,” the workshop sought to offer a joint “solutions lab” to highlight the importance of addressing inclusivity in WTO discussions and rulemaking and underlining the link between sustainability and inclusivity.