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Brexit, International Trade and Technology - The Empowerment of Women

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Today’s progress was yesterday’s plan

Every year on 8th March women around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. Women that we do not know, those who we do not see, who have no voice but we can feel are remembered.

It is a reminder for all women around the world of how far we have come and how far we have yet to achieve in the women’s right movement.

In every country around the world women (and some men) get together to share and reflect on how we can support one another and provide guidance and value to one another to keep going forward.


This year I was fortunate to be celebrating International Women’s day in Geneva, Switzerland attending various UN and NGO events held around the city. The discussions, debates and events on gender parity were a reminder that the work that the UN and the various NGO’s do is valuable to bring to light the issues and concerns around the world with Member States to make a change.

(With Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary General UNCTAD)

At the International Trade Centre (“ITC”) press for progress, SheTrades Globally event, we were reminded that women can be empowered by having the right conditions and opportunities to thrive.

SheTrades is an initiative launched by the International Trade Centre (“ITC”) to support women’s economic empowerment internationally. The goal is to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020.

Below the video that was premiered at the SheTrade, event. It is the story of two female led enterprises one in Alaska exporting fish, the other in Ghana exporting flowers and how they are trading with the help of the network.

If you are a female entrepreneur seeking to expand your business internationally, you can join the SheTrade platform by following the link here.

Ecommerce, Blockchain, women and international trade

The women’s right movement started over a century ago, it spread throughout the world before the invention of modern day technology or the Internet. At that time the telephone was a new invention, it was not in every home, only the privileged few had access to a telephone, yet women around the world found a way to connect and support one another.

In today’s economic and political environment online social media, such as Facebook has provided the opportunity for so many women to be connected. Technology has improved access to finance, payment channels, mobile technology and education.

The future is digital, it provides access to education in remote places and breakdown trade barriers.

An example of this is how Blockchain is being used to reduce logistics costs. Traditionally, to export perishable goods from one country to another in addition to meeting the standard requirements, there is a plethora of export and certification documents. For example, recent research revealed that a trader from Africa to the EU would need to overcome at least 200 documents at various stages of the exporting process. For an SME this is an arduous task. With the innovation of technologies like Blockchain, technology is simplifying the process, reducing time and cost. Therefore, bringing greater efficiency and enabling SME’s to break down traditional trade barriers.

Ecommerce also provides women solutions to overcome time and mobility constraints, offer new business opportunities that can help to increase their participation in domestic and international trade.

Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba are examples of how private industry are progressing women’s economic empowerment, for example Alibaba has 60% of its employees as women and its suppliers and customer base also reflects the gender balance.

The effects of Brexit on international trade and women

(Michael Moller, Director General UN at Geneva)

At a time when the negotiations in Brussels are being played out on the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union (“The Brexit”), consequences of unsatisfactory negotiations to include the future of Free Trade Agreements (“FTA’s”) and the role of the World Trade Organisation (“WTO”) are highlighting that whatever deal is reached, the complexities of global issues with many competing interests and conflicting interpretations in trade and investment all have an impact on women entrepreneurs.

While the WTO’s role is recognised in promoting a rules based trading environment through the removal of barriers to trade, every Member State has an official position to participate effectively in negotiations under the WTO rules. The European Union (“EU”) as a trading block is a member of WTO.

The UK is a member of the WTO, therefore by leaving the EU it will no longer be operating through the EU bloc. Under the EU the UK’s commitments on tariffs and barriers to trade are set in schedules shared with the EU. Re-establishing its place at the WTO will be concluded after the Brexit, raising questions on the trade rules governing during the transition period and the UK having its own schedules without objection from other WTO members, in particular the Most Favoured Nation Principle (“MFN”) which is the cornerstone of the multilateral trading system.

Whilst this topic in itself has its own questions on the series of parameters for examination and the consequences of the Brexit for the internal market, the focus of this article is on the issues affecting gender parity and international trade.

Present research studies have reviewed the impact of women in small medium and micro-enterprises (SMME’s) on increasing trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreements has shown that it is more difficult for women entrepreneurs to trade internationally. How the Brexit will impact women businesses in the future, is a concern and an issue that the Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group in the UK are working jointly to highlight the impact of trade agreements following the Brexit on women in different economic positions.

Trade policy has traditionally been presented as gender neutral, women have been the beneficiaries of the international trade system. However, according to a World Bank study, women face disproportionately higher trade barriers, in particular compliance with regulatory and procedural requirements, poorer access to information and market exclusion in traditionally male dominated distribution networks, higher risk of abuse to include corruption and harassment at the border.

Despite the awareness of gender issues in trade policy, the concern is that the non-binding measures like the WTO declarations and the inclusion of the gender chapters in trade agreements are a contrast in comparison to what the UK has enjoyed under the Treaty of Lisbon and EU law.

Following the Brexit, examples of modern trade deals like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (“CETA”) are focused on establishing a regulatory framework for deregulation than regulating trade. As Free Trade Agreements (“FTA’s”) are being negotiated assessments are needed for the equality impact of different trade agreements with EU and non-EU countries. Practical and legal framework issues should be assessed to provide women with the opportunities to receive training, develop, grow and expand their businesses. The consequences of how future FTA agreements and how this will impact gender parity in the UK and its global trading partners, at present are unknown.

International Women’s day is a reminder to us all that without planning or putting our issues on the agenda today, the changes that we will all enjoy tomorrow will not happen. Remembering the women before us, gives courage with belief, knowledge and drive to add value.

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Avinder Laroya is a Consultant Solicitor, Mediator and Arbitrator, she is an expert in International Dispute Resolution.

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