Gender and Trade -UK style
This article on gender and the WTO agenda was published (slightly edited) in
the UK Morning Star Saturday 9.8.03
The writer has been in negotations for some months with the UK Department of
Trade and Industry on the issue of the DTI's supposed intention to bring a
gender persepctive to its European and World Trade work.
While world trade is underpinned by the contribution of women's unpaid
labour, plus the reality of women's lower pay levels in the paid work force,
the World Trade Organisation takes no account of how world trade is
affecting women, and neither is any gendered voice allowed within that
Engendering the political economy would inherently question the current
trade agenda in the interests of both men and women ; and that's why it is
being resisted so strongly by the economic interests that drive UK, and
global, trade policy.
The huge component of activity that is women's role worldwide - in
reproduction, in care, in subsistence agriculture, and in the maintenance of
informal markets - is excluded from the economic equations of
trade-liberalizing ideology and policy; but there in fact would be no
economic system without it.
Women's unpaid labour can be considered a global public good; and the
attempt to exploit it, for free, to the maximum, equates to the
Multinational Corporation onslaught on all other global public goods, such
as the resources of the sea, freshwater, and forests.
The WTO Agreement covering the eventual lliberalisation of all services, the
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), affects women as workers.
Women's jobs in service industries are being casualised, de-unionised, and
pitted against, and lost to, cheaper labour areas of the world. In addition,
the privatisation/liberalisation continuum of the GATS means that women as
users of public services are having the onus of responsibility and unpaid
labour put back onto them, as the provision obligation of public services is
transformed to a profit obligation, and services fail, or switch to a
user-pays basis. Obviously, poor women are and will be hit harder in this
Internationally, women, making up most of the world's poor, are being
hardest hit by WTO agreements now. The export-oriented nature of the
Agreement on Agriculture, supported by Structural Adjustment Programs forced
on countries by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund,
disadvantages women subsistence farmers worldwide, as their land is taken
for export crops which fail to bring returns to them. While the proponents
of the liberalisation agenda, including purchased academics, sometimes
acknowledge casualties, they treat them as collateral damage.
More women than men are affected by the patenting of AIDS drugs under the
Trade in Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS).
The trafficking of women and children in liberalised economies is another
price women are paying for a system in which they have no say.
It is easy to see that the global trading system is not gender neutral.
Women's rights are in fact fast being negated despite the key role of women
play in it, and the WTO is facilitating the exploitation.
The WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancun in September will see new Agreements
furthering this agenda, being forced down the throat of developing countries
within the framework of the 'single undertaking'that the EC is doggedly
holding to. This will force countries to accept a package deal of
everything that's on the negotiating table, to get what they already have a
right to from previous Agreements and promises, such as generic AIDS drugs
and agricultural market access. Even gains from the mean, small changes of
the Common Agricultural Policy will be reliant on the acceptance of an
Investment Agreement that at least 2/3 of the world is trying to resist.
And even below this is the US hard line threat, the real bottom line, of
accept the lot or lose the multilateral trading system, which would leave
just the extreme power imbalances of bilateral and regional trading
In this scenario, the EU is already positioning itself as the moderate
middle way, one that listens to women, unions and environmentalists - a
useful device for the manipulations of international finance, which actually
has no such allegiance to borders.
For example, Christopher Roberts, Director General of the UK trade
department from 1987 to 1997, now heads up not only the UK investment lobby,
International Financial Services London (IFSL), the secretive LOTIS
(Liberalisation of Trade in Services) Committee in the UK, and the European
investment lobby, the European Services Lobby (EWL), plus he goes to WTO
Ministerials such as Doha as business advisor on the UK government
delegation; but he is also ‘senior analyst’ with US trade law firm,
Covington and Burling. C&L advises Multinational Corporations on how to
utilize trade rules to best advantage, but also lobbies the US government
and the WTO itself to, on the formulation of those rules.
Attempts to have the UK Dept of Trade take account of gender perspective
according to its Beijing platform obligations, have met with disappointment,
and indeed outright deceit. And experience with the EC’s Directorate of
Trade, in which policy is very fundamentally influenced by the UK component,
has been similar.
Of vital importance to women, the EC undertook not to request water services
of developing countries under GATS, but the actual requests - revealed only
in leaked documents – show otherwise. Under these circumstances, the EC
guarantees to exempt European public services from liberalization are
unlikely to hold water.
In December 2002, every major women's group in the UK ; the Women's National
Commission, the advisory body to Government, the National Alliance of
Women's Organisations, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the
National Assembly of Women and the Women's International League for Peace
and Freedom UK, called for a halt to negotiations on the GATS until there
was a gendered impact assessment. This forced the DTI to appear to heed
women's concerns about the trade agenda; and Secretary of State, Patricia
Hewitt, was likewise forced to make some connection between her role as
Minister for Women, and the world trade dealings of the UK that she
oversees, as Secretary of State for Trade.
However, the subsequent meeting between the Patricia Hewitt and the WNC on
the issue was scheduled for May - after the EU's offer on what it will
liberalise under GATS, and its requests for liberalizations of other
countries, including of their essential services, had been tabled at the
In fact this belated and ineffectual attention to the GATS served as a cover
for what is actually the crucial issue now - the Cancun negotiations.
The GATS negotiations are continuing regardless of women's deep and
widespread concerns, and indeed regardless of Cancun outcomes.
At a meeting organized by the TUC in June on ‘Globalisation and Gender’,
Patricia Hewitt used the example of South Korea, contrasted with Ghana, to
convince the women there of the benefits of trade liberalisation. As David
Andrews, head of European and World Trade at DTI later admitted to me, the
South Korean example was used precisely because NGO’s frequently refer to it
- as an example of the protectionism under which South Korea actually
Thus Patricia Hewitt’s speech was designed to deliberately confuse the very
people who trust her because of her role in representing their interests.
Throughout some months of talks with the Department of Trade’s European and
World Trade directorate, women’s movement representatives have received
assurances that the inclusion of a gender representative on the UK
delegation to Cancun was being given serious and favourable consideration.
Having a gender representative would be a visible signal to the world that
there is a need for a gender perspective in global trade negotiations. Even
more important is the inclusion of such a representative in the EC’s trade
delegation because it is the EC that actually negotiates in the WTO.
Interestingly, and showing the fundamental role the UK has with the EC DG
Trade, the DTI is now exactly parroting the runaround that the EC is giving
- that civil society representation on the delegation is an issue for NGOs
to decide on and fund, between them, and not a UK government or an EC
responsibility or obligation.
The argument that female Ministers Patricia Hewitt, who has been prepared to
deceive women on trade, and GM-friendly DEFRA Minister Margaret Beckett (few
women want to feed their children GM) will themselves constitute a gender
perspective is a non-starter.
David Andrews has repeatedly used the fact of the modest budget he obtained
some months ago, for gender, to indicate the depth of DTI commitment to
making up lost ground on honouring gender obligations. Unfortunately, not
only does that budget remain unspent after all this time, but it now seems
to have disappeared off the screen altogether.
It certainly wasn’t mentioned at what was supposed to have been an
apocryphal meeting on women and trade, hosted by the DTI on Aug 1st. In fact
many participants left in a state of shock when, after having been invited
there to formulate key urgent ideas, which emerged :
- an emergency set of meetings in the lead up to Cancun, in order to affect
present UK/EU government policy, recognised as being inimical to women’
- a funded gender representative on the UK delegation to Cancun
- a moratorium on any further WTO negotiations until there is gender impact
assessment of existing and proposed agreements
the participants were told by the DTI’s newly appointed ‘gender’ person that
the next meeting would be – after Cancun!
This aborted action is the culmination of many months of time wasting by the
DTI, pretending that it was serious about considering the perspectives of
women in the area of global trade negotiations.
As well as the Minister’s speech - surely on a par with other attempts by
this government to fool all of the people all the time - the DTI’s repeated
mantra emanating from supposed research by DTI economists that trade
liberalization is completely beneficial to women, lacks integrity. There is
too much evidence to the contrary.
The academic field of Feminist Economics does take account of women’s vital
role in world trade. It is important that women’s interests in regard to
trade are not fobbed off with only equal employment negotiating, or indeed
only with development issues. Trade affects women who cannot join unions,
who are subsistence farmers, who are users of public services or would like
to be, and who are bought and sold. Women have a right to a voice in the
trade agenda, per se, and world trade runs, to a large extent, on their
Those charged with representing the interests of women must particularly
take responsibility, and not be lulled into supporting the deception of a
global agenda which is operating in the interests of a few rich
0207 265 9307
Linda Kaucher has been working with UK and global women’s networks, as well
as the DTI and the European Commission’s Directorate of Trade, to bring a
gender perspective to the world trade regime.