Issues around gender equality in trade and women’s economic empowerment are likely to feature for the first time in a bilateral trade agreement being negotiated by India. The UK is insisting on a chapter on gender issues in the proposed India-UK free trade pact and New Delhi is willing to participate as long as it does not lead to greater market access commitments, according to a source.

“While India is open to exploring ways to ensure women too can take advantage of free trade pacts being negotiated, it will not allow gender to be used as a tool to gain back door market access or restrict trade,” a person close to the matter told BusinessLine .

Since this will be the first time that India includes gender issues in an FTA, there is a lot of exploratory work to be done. “Commerce Department officials are studying what gender issues in trade imply for trade agreements. They are looking at existing arrangements around the world and studying various models,” the source added.

Early harvest pact

India and the UK, at present, are working on an early harvest pact including a few items, which will subsequently be expanded into a comprehensive agreement with various components such as goods, services, investments, e-commerce and government procurement.

Interestingly, India is not part of a plurilateral initiative at the WTO on a non-binding declaration that sought women’s economic empowerment by speedily removing barriers to trade. New Delhi has refused to be part of the exercise as it concerned that the developed world could use its high standards on gender equity to create barriers for trade from developing nations.

Some civil society organisations opposing the initiative also fear that the non-binding declaration could be the first step towards eventual binding commitments.

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“India will support inclusion of gender perspective in its FTAs as long as the incorporated measures for empowering women are transparent in their intention,” the source said.

The UK has included a chapter on gender equality in its recent FTA with Australia which is acting as a guide for India. Under the pact, the two agreed to undertake cooperation activities to support women workers, business owners and entrepreneurs to access full benefits and opportunities created by the pact.

The two countries also plan to exchange information, experiences and evidence relating to programmes and initiatives aimed at improving the access of women to markets, technology and financing and promoting equal opportunities for women in the workplace, including workplace flexibility.

The UK and Australia also agreed to cooperate and exchange information on the integration of gender in approaches to data collection, analysis and monitoring including conducting gender analysis of trade policies.