Australian High Commission
New Delhi
India, Bhutan

High Commissioner's speech at Workshop on Trade Facilitation Measures

                                                                      High Commissioner's Address at the Workshop on Trade Facilitation Measures that Support

                                                                      Cross Border Trade by Women in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal

27 April 2016

(Check against delivery)


Thank you for the warm introduction, Dr Taneja

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening and to have attended part of this workshop on Trade Facilitation Measures that Support Cross Border Trade by Women in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.

The workshop is an important step for exploring how trade facilitation policies and programs can be designed specifically to benefit women – who are an often-untapped resource.

What excites me even more is that we are focussing on the experiences of women entrepreneurs and support agencies.

This is so that women are at the table and able to influence the design of future policies and programs that will ultimately affect them.  

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (and this is a direct quote),

“Gender inequalities impact on trade policy outcomes and economic growth. Taking into account gender perspectives in macro-economic policy, including trade policy, is essential to pursuing inclusive and sustainable development and to achieving fairer and beneficial outcomes for all.”[1]


South Asia is among the least integrated regions in the world, with relatively poor trade-related infrastructure and high costs for intraregional trade, and there are lots of reasons for this.  

This has restricted the region’s growth potential and poverty reduction efforts.

Women’s participation in the labour force in South Asia is also particularly low, and has actually fallen: from 36 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2016[2] - a stark contrast to the global average of 50 per cent.

South Asia has much to gain from improved regional connectivity, and much to gain from better integrating women into the economy to equalise labour force participation.  

According to the World Bank, increasing female employment and entrepreneurship to male levels could improve average incomes by 19% in South Asia alone, which is a phenomenal rise.  These are very compelling statistics.

Identifying and removing barriers that inhibit women from contributing to international trade and economic growth gives women traders the opportunity to increase their incomes, and gives more women the opportunity to trade across borders.

Developing interventions that support the economic empowerment of women through trade facilitation will help address the challenge of poverty in the region.

And it will lower the costs of trade, ease the flow of goods and services across borders, and ensure that women (and also men) are able to gain from trade opportunities.


All countries are different, but many of the challenges to equal participation remain the same:

Women’s participation in international trade is constrained by both institutional structures and by cultural norms. Basically, patriarchal attitudes prevail. 

When it comes to trade and transport infrastructure, women are disadvantaged because they generally face higher transaction costs than men.

A 2016 UNDP study, which I am pleased to note was also supported by the Australian Government, found social stigma and traditions made it difficult for women to operate a business similar to the way men do.

The same study found that women also find it difficult to deal with customs and trade officials, and also find it more difficult to access information on rules and regulations. This means meaning that they tend to rely on male counterparts and on male intermediaries to complete the formalities of trade procedures for them.

A lack of physical security at border crossings increases women’s vulnerability to harassment and different forms of gender-based violence. I was very struck, when I sat in on the last session today, by how often safety came into the conversation.

And women do - and this is no surprise to any of us - a disproportionate share of unpaid care and household work. Societal pressure to balance these responsibilities places constraints on women’s participation in business and international trade.

This becomes also a vicious cycle of sorts. We have an institutional framework that is not supportive of women’s participation and engagement, we have cultural norms that don’t support this engagement, and so the visibility of women in trade and trade facilitation is low. 

All this sounds a bit dismal, but it is also an exciting time.

Just this week, at the Women20 meetings that took place in Germany, leaders called for a new vision to allow women to fulfill their potential to contribute fully and equitably to the global economy.  Having a female leader – Angela Merkel - has given the issue of women contributing to the global economy a whole new profile.

And, in South Asia, several new trade facilitation-related agreements are being signed.

The time is ripe to ensure that gender considerations are integrated into these agreements.

It is important that workshops like this, which highlight the experiences of women entrepreneurs, take place.

Your views and experiences, and the outputs from this workshop, will play an important role in informing the approaches of policy-makers, business and development organisations in driving change.

From an Australian Government perspective, they also help inform government thinking about how we can best support countries in the region in tackling these difficult issues.


The Australian Government is deeply committed to improving economic opportunities for women.

Women’s economic empowerment is a pillar of Australia’s aid program in the Indo-Pacific region.

In fact it is a priority of all our foreign, trade and development policy, and permeates our aid program.  It is no accident that our Department Secretary is a woman, and that these things are woven into the fabric of what we do.

For example, Australian Government’s South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program - let’s call it “the Program” for short, under which this workshop has been convened, supports the World Bank’s South Asia Regional Integration Strategy.

Under this program, we are working with the World Bank to help develop both soft and hard infrastructure that promotes the ability of women to engage in cross border trade effectively and safely.

The program is unique in that it seeks to apply a gender equality dimension to trade facilitation and transport connectivity services.

This is to better support women to be able to understand and participate in value chains, to become entrepreneurs, and to engage in cross-border trade.

Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone, recently visited Nepal and she had the opportunity to meet with several women from the Australian Government-funded Micro-Enterprise for Development Program.

She heard their incredible experiences of how they became financially independent and, like you, are now role models for women’s economic development and empowerment.  

They have even been approached by political parties to stand in next month’s elections, which is a real mark of confidence in these women.


Cultural norms are challenging.

They have created and continue to perpetuate the gender gap in trade facilitation and they will take time to change.

But there is much that governments and businesses can do - at a country level, but also united as a region.

And we would miss an important moment in time if we failed to take these opportunities.

And aside from it being the right thing to do, the economic case is absolutely undeniable - as I’ve mentioned earlier.

If every country in the world were to elevate its gender equality policies to match the best-performing country in the region, the global economy would gain an additional $12 trillion in income.

When I imagine South Asia with tens of millions more women participating in and contributing to the regional economy as a result of more equal participation in trade and other economic opportunities, it is a formidable vision - but it is an exciting vision at the same time.

But women are still in the minority and under-represented – at all levels, and across the economy.

For the sake of growth and development – in South Asia, in Australia, and across our region and the world – this needs to change.

Your voices and inputs into this workshop will help us take a step further in the right direction. And so tomorrow morning, when you move to gather together the thinking, reflection and knowledge you’ve shared today, I encourage you to think about it what would mean in practice.  It would be a shame if your efforts don’t go anywhere.

I wish you every success in your efforts tomorrow.

Thank you


[2] Modelled ILO estimate taken from