WTO and Gender Concerns in South Asia

This report discusses the key linkages between the WTO agreements and gender in South Asian countries.The central objective of the exercise has been to communicate in simple terms the gender dimensions of the WTO to a non-specialist audience.

Trade and gender linkages have not been accorded their due importance by researchers and advocacy groups. Keeping this in view, the report has been prepared, primarily as a tool for promoting awareness and debates amongst concerned stakeholders, and not as an exhaustive academic exercise on the subject.

The importance of examining trade-gender linkages in the context of WTO has arisen essentially on three counts. The significance of international trade in global economic activities has continued to grow exponentially. Thus, while world merchandise output has increased by four percent a year, the volume of trade in goods has grown by an average of six percent a year since 1948. In volume terms, this represents an eighteenfold increase in world trade since 1948. Exports of manufactured goods are now 43 times higher than they were 50 years ago. The net result is that around one quarter of world production is now traded and subject to rules of international trade.

Since 1995, the WTO is the chief vehicle that creates and enforces the rules governing international trade. The rules contained in the WTO agreements account for well over 90 percent of world trade and are followed by 149 countries. The WTO comprises a wide array of legally binding multilateral trade agreements covering most aspects of our
day-to-day lives. The impact of WTO agreements on gender outcomes and concerns, therefore, constitutes a key area of engagement for all concerned. This is especially so since none of the WTO agreements make any explicit reference to gender impacts despite normative and legal obligations to the contrary as enunciated in various historic
commitments advancing the cause of gender equality.

With high average trade-to-GDP ratios, large absolute inflows of foreign direct investment, substantial capital flows and significant movements of labour, South Asia is well on its way to becoming one of the most globally integrated regions in the world.

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