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Trade and gender in free trade agreements: The Canadian approach

Gender equality and the avoidance of discrimination based on gender has been one of the priorities pursued by Canada during trade negotiations in the past, notably through language regarding the elimination of employment discrimination in labour cooperation agreements and labour chapters in free trade agreements (FTAs). 

More recently, Canada has sought to mainstream gender considerations throughout its FTAs. As the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender to the United Nations puts it, “[Gender] [m]ainstreaming is not an end in itself but a strategy, an approach, a means to achieve the goal of gender equality. Mainstreaming involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities,” including activities associated with the development, implementation and monitoring of government policies, programs and projects.

In the context of FTAs, the Government of Canada is currently applying a two-pronged approach to trade and gender by:

1) working to include a standalone chapter on trade and gender.

2) mainstreaming gender by including other gender-related provisions throughout FTAs

Dedicated trade and gender chapters

On June 5, 2017, the Government of Canada broke new ground when the Minister of International Trade signed Canada’s first trade and gender chapter as a part of the modernized Canada-Chile FTA. This new chapter, which builds upon the chapter on gender in the 2016 Chile-Uruguay FTA, is a first in terms of Canadian FTAs and a first for any G20 country.

Since then, Canada has gone on to include a dedicated trade and gender chapter in its modernized Canada-Israel FTA, along with other inclusive trade elements, such as a dedicated article on corporate social responsibility and new chapters on labour, the environment and SMEs.

Going forward, ensuring that FTAs include trade and gender chapters is a priority for the Government of Canada.

Objectives of trade and gender chapters in Canada’s free trade agreements

Existing trade and gender chapters in the modernized Canada-Chile FTA and the modernized Canada-Israel FTA include four key objectives.

1. Reaffirm importance of incorporating a gender perspective into economic and trade issues

2. Reaffirm commitment to international agreements on gender equality and women’s rights

This includes reaffirming our commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was the first major international agreement addressing the rights of women.

3. Provide a framework for parties to the agreement to undertake cooperation activities on issues related to gender and trade

Central to Canada’s approach to its trade and gender chapters is providing a platform for Canada and its FTA partners to engage in bilateral cooperation activities. These activities are aimed at improving the capacity and conditions for women—including workers, businesswomen and entrepreneurs—to access and fully benefit from the opportunities created by trade and investment. These activities are designed to be as inclusive as possible and include provisions to involve public- and private-sector stakeholders, such as government agencies, businesses and other civil society organizations.

4. Establish a dedicated trade and gender committee and other institutional provisions

The objective of the trade and gender committee, to be composed of officials from each party to the agreement, is to perform functions related to accountability, transparency, advisory, coordination and facilitation. The committee ensures transparency by reporting on its activities and outcomes achieved. The committee also performs an advisory function by reviewing the operation of the chapter and advising the governments on opportunities to further advance gender equality objectives and outcomes throughout the FTA.

Mainstreaming gender by including gender-related provisions throughout a free trade agreement

A dedicated trade and gender chapter is only one of many ways used by Canada in seeking to promote access for women to trade, and to advance gender equality and other gender-related objectives in its FTAs.

Outside of a dedicated chapter, Canada believes there are other opportunities to mainstream gender-responsive elements throughout a trade agreement. These can include: 

The Gender and Trade Advisory Group

The Gender and Trade Advisory Group was established in October, 2020 by Global Affairs Canada to deliver on a commitment in Canada’s Inclusive Approach to Trade, which seeks to ensure that the benefits of trade are more widely shared, including with underrepresented groups such as women, Indigenous peoples, and small and medium-sized businesses. A key pillar of Canada’s inclusive trade policy is to conduct outreach with a wide range of stakeholders. The Gender and Trade Advisory Group plays a pivotal role in advancing important conversations on trade and gender by engaging Canadians from all sectors and regions across Canada. This initiative aims to provide a forum for government officials to hear from trade and gender experts, academics and leading organizations on women in business on their challenges, concerns, and successes. It also aims to receive feedback on our Trade and Gender chapter provisions for trade agreements and other trade policy issues; and build knowledge and capacity of the Gender and Trade Advisory Group members on trade policy.

Gender provisions and chapters in Canada’s current FTAs

Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA)

Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA)

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

World Trade Organization (WTO)

The Global Trade and Gender Arrangement (GTAGA)

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