On June 5, 2017, Canada’s Minister of International Trade announced the “addition of a chapter on trade and gender to modernize the 20-year-old Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement.” What this Gender Chapter contains has not yet been released publicly – so, no one knows what this all means. The Global Affairs Canada announcement states the following in respect of the negotiated chapter:
“The trade and gender chapter acknowledges the importance of applying a gender perspectives to economic and trade issues to ensure that economic growth benefits everyone, confirms the intention of both parties to enforce their respective international agreements on gender from a rights perspective and provides a framework for Canada and Chile to cooperate on issues related to trade and gender, including women’s entrepreneurship and the development of gender-focused indicators.
The trade and gender chapter also commits both sides to the creation of a trade and gender committee that will oversee cooperation and share experiences in designing programs to encourage women’s participation in national and international economies. This development is tangible evidence of the strong, progressive and feminist approach the Government of Canada brings to all aspects of its foreign policy.”
This development in international trade law builds on meetings between Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump and Ivanka Trump in the context of the Canada-US relationship. They talked about implementing creative measures to generate opportunities for women. The World Economic Forum is also talking about Women’s Economic Empowerment.
What is important is that the the words written on paper are not treated as having the value of the paper alone. There needs to be laws, regulations, policies and actions to promote women entrepreneurs, exporters, importers and traders. For example, here is an easy one for Canada – women with knowledge in international trade and investment law should be added to lists of arbitrators under Chapter G “Investment” of the Canada- Chile FTA and Chapter N “Dispute Settlement Procedures” of the Canada-Chile FTA – this would be a good place to start.
New opportunities for women should be encouraged and supported. For example, Canada and Chile should pass laws to encourage the appointment of women to boards of directors, the judiciary, senior government positions, etc.. Export support programs (such as those advanced by Export Development Canada) should have programs focused at attracting and helping women entrepreneurs, exporters and importers. Organizations, such as the Organization of Women in International Trade (“OWIT”), should receive government funding. At the very least, government should ask “How Can We Help You?”
Diversity policies should not be an aspiration, they should be inspiring. The government can encourage the adoption of diversity policies in business by providing incentives. Incentives do not need to be monetary in nature. Recognition of companies with diversity policies and proven results can be made in the form of awards or promotion.
If this modernization of the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement starts this important dialogue, as a woman, I am all for it. But, please do not let this be in the end of the discussion. Do not let the words on this piece of paper gather dust. Now is the time to make things happen.