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Weekly Trade Spotlight: International Women’s Day

Tuesday, March 8, was International Women’s Day (IWD). This year’s theme for IWD was “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.” This week, highlights how global trade benefits women.

Recognizing that trade policy benefits women in America and abroad, USTR is using trade policy to achieve objectives such as poverty reduction and promoting rule of law, as well as to improve the financial and socio-economic status of women and children. Job creation, market access or the improvement in the overall standard of living are some of the opportunities that can be created to impact the lives of women.

Recently, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk visited Minneapolis, Minnesota, to meet with local business leaders to kick-off the National Export Initiative (NEI) Small Business Tour. Ambassador Kirk co-hosted a conference entitled “New Markets, New Jobs,” and spoke about the importance of innovation to make America’s small- and medium-sized businesses more competitive abroad. Today, small businesses owned by women employ more than 4 million workers and contribute about $1 trillion to the U.S. economy. Even among these thriving companies, it is clear that businesses that export tend to grow faster, add jobs sooner, and pay higher wages. Yet currently only one out of every 100 small- and medium-sized businesses markets its products abroad. Most of these organizations export only to a single country. USTR is working to find new ways to help these business owners boost their exports in order to grow and prosper.

U.S. trade agreements also include provisions to promote more effective and efficient trade capacity building assistance to all sectors of society. These include programs that improve the ability of women and girls to participate more effectively in the domestic and global marketplace.

In February, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro traveled to El Salvador where she visited an agricultural cooperative in the rural area of Caluco. This region is considered to be one of the poorest municipalities in El Salvador. The majority of farmers here are devoted to subsistence agriculture, but the farmers at this site have diversified to higher value crops. Products such as baby corn, eggplant, and cilantro are being packaged for commercial sale and prepared to export to international markets, including the United States. This transition is made possible through trade capacity building assistance provided under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States (CAFTA-DR) Free Trade Agreement. Ambassador Sapiro toured the facility with two of the farmers, a husband and wife team, who have three children in school including a daughter in college. The family exemplifies how such programs provide opportunities not just to farmers, ranchers and workers, but to entire families and communities.

Additionally, USTR administers the four U.S. tariff preference programs that provide enhanced access for developing countries' exports into the U.S. markets. These programs benefit women who comprise much of the labor force in developing countries both in larger-scale manufacturing operations and in the home.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis recently traveled to Liberia and visited Liberian Women’s Sewing Project, a women-owned cooperative that produces apparel for export to the United States. What was once a pillaged and bullet-ridden building, now houses a business that trains and employs over thirty women, pays a good wage, and provides basic health care and a bag of rice as employee benefits. The Liberian Women’s Sewing Project is made possible through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). USTR recently determined that Liberia has adopted an effective textile monitoring and control regime that qualified Liberian textile and apparel exports to receive for duty-free treatment when they enter the United States. Facing no duties in the United States, Liberian exports become more competitive globally and more attractive to American consumers, bringing tangible benefits to Liberia.

USTR strives to ensure that U.S. trade policy is developed and implemented in a way that includes benefits for working women and their families. As President Obama has said, we are “doing all of this not only because promoting women’s empowerment is one of the best ways to promote economic development and economic success. We are doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”