‘“Inclusion” is the buzzword on the lips of trade ministers at this week’s World Trade Organization ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, as they seek to rescue an international regime and its peak organization from a deepening crisis of legitimacy’, reports University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey from the meeting.

‘Proposals on gender, small and medium enterprises, facilitating investment for development belie the determination to abandon promises of a Doha development round, with negative impacts on billions of women.’

Today, around 100 WTO Members, including New Zealand, are expected to release a Declaration on Gender and Trade.

The short  Declaration has a very long preamble, non-binding promises to hold seminars on a range of matters including to identify ‘barriers’ that limit women’s participation in trade (which usually means further liberalisation), and is unenforceable.

Professor Kelsey describes the move as a crude attempt to ‘pinkwash’ the WTO. ‘The WTO has never been interested in gender, let alone the negative impacts of its agreements on the world’s women, especially in developing countries.’

In just two days, more than 160 women’s rights and allied groups internationally have signed a letter calling on WTO Members to reject the Declaration that seeks to mask the failures of the WTO for women. Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) encapsulated their sentiments, saying ‘we will not be mainstreamed into a polluted stream’.

The women point to the devastating effects of existing WTO rules on women, including unaffordable medicines, feminisation of low-quality and insecure work, loss of livelihoods for women small farmers and food sovereignty to feed their families, displacement of indigenous women by transnational corporations, and marginalisation of women’s small business because governments can’t buy local.

‘Our Labour-led government has promised a new inclusive and progressive trade agenda for women, Maori, workers, the environment and small business, and that addresses the challenges of climate change’, Professor Kelsey noted. ‘It has referred favourably to the gender annex that Canada has begun including in its free trade agreements, which largely mirrors this Declaration.’

‘If the government’s new direction is to claim any credibility it will have to go considerably further and genuinely redress the negative impacts of existing and proposed rules on those communities’.