WTO Meeting: refusal of CSO participation and gender legitimizing neo-liberal trade policies

The World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference ended this week on 13 December in Argentina without any substantive deal being concluded, but with several lows.

The meeting was off to a bad start when the Argentinean government refused entry of  Civil Society members. This decision, which was called into question by participating member states, including the EU, could not be made completely undone and cast a shadow on the meeting. For example, Global Justice Now Director, Nick Dearden, stated:

“President Macri has excelled in his draconian approach to this summit. We’ve never before seen such a silencing and censoring of civil society voices. His attempts to block over 60 experts and campaigners from the host country are unprecedented, with observers now being returned home from the airport.”

On Tuesday the WTO adopted for the first time in its history a Declaration on Women and Trade, which is supported by 118 WTO members and observers. One can read the full statement here, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/mc11_12dec17_e.htm.

The declaration could have been a milestone for the protection of women’s rights, if it wasn’t solely focused on promoting measures for women entrepreneurs and those in small and medium business as well as on removing ‘trade barriers’. Unfortunately the declaration can provide an opening to introduce new issues that push further with a neo-liberal policy. In this context, suggestions were made whether ‘gender’ will be Trojan horse in introducing new issues into the WTO (http://www.twn.my/title2/wto.info/2017/ti171212.htm).

More than 160 women’s rights and allied organizations, including WIDE+, did send an urgent letter to WTO member governments, calling state parties to refrain from adopting the proposed “Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment”.  The letter argues that the proposed Declaration fails to address the adverse impact of WTO rules on women and instead appears to be designed to mask the failures of the WTO and its role in deepening inequality and exploitation (read the full statement here: WTOwomen2017).

Gea Meijers, member of the European network WIDE+ trade and gender working group, concludes: “It is very important include a gender perspective into international trade policy; this proposed declaration can do more harm than good in protecting women’s rights. When engendering international trade policy becomes synonym to promoting trade for women entrepreneurs and small and medium business, a narrow approach will be facilitated that can only partially contribute to women’s empowerment for a small group of women. It will at the same time increase and sustain a lack of respect for the rights of many more other women that are for example currently trapped in unfair competition rules, lack decent work because of trade policies liberalization, and that do not have proper access to medicines because of high prices as a result of protected intellectual property rights. If the WTO wants to remover barriers for women, it should prioritize re-balancing trading policies to give equal weight to environmental and human rights protection, instead of increasing the liberalization of trade”.