Global trade provides opportunities for women and girls all over the world to improve their lives, increase their earning potential and drive economic value, according to the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who delivered the 18th Rafael M. Salas Memorial Lecture to the United Nations Population Fund in New York, said the empowerment of women through trade and decent jobs contributes to development and economic growth, particularly in poorer countries.
But she stressed that too much of this potential has gone unrealized, and there is "so much more" that can be done to leverage trade and create economic opportunities for women.
Past research by the International Monetary Fund has suggested that narrowing labor market gender disparities in developing economies could increase GDP by up to 35 percent.
The WTO and World Bank also released a joint study showing that trade is directly linked to the number and quality of job opportunities available to women. Exporting companies typically employ more women, while those integrated into global trade and value chains have a higher average female labor share than their domestically focused counterparts.
Ms Okonjo-Iweala said: "The key takeaway is clear: the opportunity costs of gender inequality in the labor market — the economic gains we choose to forego by allowing those inequalities to persist — are immense. They are in the same ballpark as the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic."
The director-general also underlined the need to support poor countries in benefiting from the opportunities presented by trade and globalization.
She said the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have triggered a "rethink" on supply chain resilience, which "creates a window of opportunity to bring these poor countries from the margins of the global economy to the mainstream".