By Dr Nisha Taneja and Shravani Prakash, First published in Economic Times
India’s Foreign Trade Policy, 2023, was expected to include “gender” for the first time in its vision document but the final version completely missed doing so. Not mainstreaming gender into the FTP will not only prevent women from significantly contributing to India’s goal of achieving US$2 trillion in exports but will also disempower the implementation of the National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (NTFAP) that specifically includes gender mainstreaming on its agenda.
It must be iterated that “being gender blind is not being gender neutral.” Research by the WTO and World Bank has recently proven that trade and trade policy affect men and women differently — in terms of wages, consumption, welfare and in the quality of jobs created. Therefore, it is vital to include the intent and specific provisions for enabling women in the policies that have an impact on the speed and direction of the country’s trade growth.
Recognizing the importance of gender mainstreaming, India’s National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (2020-23) specifically recommended the promotion of “gender inclusiveness in trade” as an action point (Action Point 27). A key reason for including gender mainstreaming in the NTFAP was to address the fall in India’s global ranking in the Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation carried out by the United Nations. The survey covers 53 measures of which 5 measures are related to gender mainstreaming. The NTFAP noted that “gender mainstreaming is the only parameter on which India has not performed as well as its regional counterparts” in the Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation. India scored an overall 90.3 percent as compared to 78.4 per cent in 2019, but it’s score was only 66 percent in the “Women in Trade Facilitation” component.
In response the NTFAP’s action point, the Land Port Authority of India is in the process of making the land ports more gender friendly so that more women can participate in cross border trade. This sets an example for other trade bodies and agencies to incorporate gender equality into their policies.
Another important aspect of trade policy where gender mainstreaming is expected is in India’s Free Trade Agreements that it is negotiating with the EU, Israel, Canada, and the UK. In the context of these FTAs, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has stated that “India is opening up discussions on never-before subjects like gender, environment, SMEs, labour, and anti-corruption laws.” Gender provisions are increasingly being included in FTAs worldwide and range from parties reaffirming existing commitments to gender equality, to setting out measures for the promotion of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. As of September 2022, out of 353 in force RTAs notified to the WTO, 101 include at least one explicit reference to gender issues. These provisions promote gender equity and equal or equitable access for men and women to opportunities generated by the RTA. It is likely that India will include gender in its FTAs that are under negotiations.
In the light of these developments, it is disappointing that the final FTP policy document does not mention gender or women anywhere within the policy, even though the draft of FTP in September 2022 had stated that gender should at least be included in the Vision statement of the FTP. Several provisions in the new Foreign Trade Policy can potentially support women’s participation in trade automatically, including the measures to enable technology and automation, move towards paperless trade, promotion of E-Commerce Exports, enablement of SMEs and exports of perishables, etc. However, it is important for the FTP to explicitly reflect the Government’s vision of enabling women’s economic empowerment and include measures for enhancing women’s participation in trade as entrepreneurs, traders, or workers.
Most importantly, the FTP must provide for collection of data on women’s participation in trade, since the lack of data is a major barrier towards enabling women’s trade. The policy provisions must also lead to the creation of more opportunities for trade for women as well as guide trade policy makers in thinking through how trade and trade policy can support gender empowerment. A gender responsive trade policy would consider appropriate measures in sectors such as textiles, jewellery and food processing where more women are likely to be prevalent. The policy must specifically mention areas where special thrust and efforts should be made to include women entrepreneurs to participate in trade. For instance, currently, there are special provisions for women under the Market Access Initiative (MAI) scheme and it would be helpful to highlight this within the overall FTP document.
For now, the complete absence of a gender lens in formulating India’s Foreign Trade Policy runs counter to its attempts at gender mainstreaming in other economic policies. However, gender mainstreaming will affirm India’s commitment to reducing gender inequalities through trade policies and agreements. Making trade inclusive will ensure that the benefits exports growth are shared more widely and equitably, and trade will potentially be able to contribute to policy objectives like the Government’s “women-led development agenda.” This is especially since research has proven that trade policies with a gender perspective help overcome overall gender inequalities.