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How Does Trade Impact Women and How Can Trade Policies Support Women's Economic Empowerment?

October 28, 2021

Speaker: Jane Korinek, Economist & Trade Policy Analyst for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Paris, France.
Chair: Michael G. Plummer, Director and ENI Professor of International Economics, Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe, Bologna, Italy

Having studied the intersection of international trade and gender since 2005, Jane Korinek shares her most recent research to SAIS students and faculty. Korinek's latest research culminates in the OECD Trade Policy Paper no. 246 entitled, "Trade and Gender: A Framework of Analysis," published in March 2021. The paper analyses the effects of trade and domestic economic policies on women as workers, consumers, and business owners, and advises governments on methods to address gender inequalities in international trade.

As evidenced by Korinek's research, because women in OECD countries are more likely to work in the service sector, women are less engaged in jobs that are impacted by trade. Additionally, as women are disproportionately found in low-income households, and as low-income households spend a higher average percentage of their total earnings each year, women are more likely to benefit from lower prices garnered through trade and by removing trade barriers such as import tariffs. Furthermore, as evidenced by a collaborative study from the OECD and World Bank which used Facebook surveys to gather data, women-owned businesses are less likely to engage in international trade and are more likely to claim that distance from markets are a challenge to business management and growth. Such findings lead Korinek and her colleagues to conclude that women face inequalities in access to trade and are thus more likely to be excluded from associated economic benefits.

As Korinek explains, challenges presented by gender-disproportionate access to trade especially affected women during the COVID-19 pandemic. In OECD countries, 85% of medical personnel are women, and women are more likely to work in high-risk service sectors with face-to-face contact. Such inequalities are exacerbated by the gender pay gap: 19% lower average yearly earnings for women than men worldwide and 13% lower average yearly earnings for women in OECD countries. Korinek explains that by increasing women's access to trade, women can expand their businesses and earn higher wages. Economies can also benefit, expanding without reinforcing inequalities and with access to more diverse markets.

Korinek's "Trade and Gender: A Framework for Development" provides a to-do list for countries to address such economic gender inequalities. First, governments should reaffirm existing commitments to gender equality, preferably in writing. Second, governments should pursue right-to-regulate provisions which allow them to intervene and correct inequalities. Third, governments should actively promote gender-responsive policies and cooperation, which includes continuing research and discussion of where trade and domestic economic policies can improve. Fourth, governments should include dedicated gender chapters in bilateral trade agreements, to explicitly confirm their efforts on behalf of women. As Korinek states, by including women in the conception of trade policies and trade agreements and by consulting women before, during, and after trade agreement negotiations, governments can remove institutional constraints and reduce unconscious bias towards women. These efforts, in turn, will reduce gender inequalities and allow women to benefit more from international trade.