At the beginning of June, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report underscoring how trade serves women and their economic interests. The data showcases how trade agreements and preference programs benefit women by protecting their economic interests and promoting their well-being.
In their examination of previously conducted reports and studies, GAO found that as trade grows, women’s workforce participation and employment increases with it. A report released by the U.S. International Trade Commission in June of 2021 estimated that women experienced the largest increase in the number of full-time employees employed in the management, business, and science sectors as a result of U.S. trade agreements. Employment growth was also significant for women in the services and sales sectors due to trade agreements, with women seeing more growth in employment levels compared to their male counterparts in the same sector.
The same employment growth trends can also be seen outside the United States. One study that examined regional trade agreements between South Asian countries noted that women in the region saw employment and wage increases in green sector jobs.
However, trade agreements are not the only way the U.S. can aid women in the workplace abroad. Various U.S. preference programs have also assisted other countries in economic growth and have also created more jobs for women specifically. As defined by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), a preference program gives other countries – typically developing nations – increased access to the U.S. market. Some of the most successful preference program initiatives that the United States has launched include the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) Program.
GAO highlights how the CBI preference program increased net employment and helped create more jobs in the Haitian apparel industry. According to the USTR report about this program, 65 percent of the workers in this industry are women. Without U.S. aid through the trade preference program, the industry and the opportunities it affords to women would not exist.
Bolstering Female Entrepreneurs
The use of technology is a significant aspect of trade that supports female entrepreneurs and business owners around the world. Online technology can even allow women to bypass traditional barriers to global trade. According to one study, because online payment methods that link buyers and sellers electronically eliminate face-to-face interactions, barriers and difficulties female entrepreneurs may confront, such as limited flexibility, prejudice, and violence are minimized.
Economic and Health Benefits
GAO also notes that trade increases the purchasing power of women and decreases the prices of goods. Lower trade barriers especially help low-income households, often composed of single mothers who spend a larger portion of their disposable income on retail items compared to other groups.
There is also evidence that U.S. preference programs have positively affected women’s health and economic well-being. Specifically, after the implementation of a sub-Saharan African preference program, infant mortality rates fell by 9 percent according to a study published in World Development. Increased job opportunities for women gave rise to higher incomes, which positively contributed to their children’s health—thereby decreasing infant mortality rates.
GAO’s report showcases the integral role trade plays in the lives of women in the U.S. and around the world. Reductions of trade barriers allow for increased employment opportunities, greater purchasing power, and positive health effects for women. These are just a few of the ways that trade benefits women and helps them to create better lives for themselves.
Free trade benefits all demographic groups, but underserved communities most of all. NTUF noted in an article last year that in the eyes of many Black and Hispanic Americans, free trade agreements have helped their individual economic circumstances and have increased their financial well-being. Overall, free trade provides opportunities to many groups and is a pronounced aspect of a healthy economy and a robust society.