Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's a pleasure to be here to discuss how OWIT embraces the modernization of NAFTA and efforts to make it more progressive. Thank you for the invitation.
I will be providing OWIT's opening remarks today. I am a board member of OWIT's Ottawa chapter. I work as a responsible sourcing programming manager for UL, Underwriters Laboratories, where I advise companies and brands on supply chain issues. I'm here today with Alma Farias, who will respond to the committee's questions. Mrs. Farias is a board member of OWIT's Toronto chapter. She is at the trade facilitation office for Canada as the Ontario regional representative. She also has a consulting practice to assist Canadian companies to access the Mexican market.
The Organization of Women in International Trade, or OWIT, is a global not-for-profit association seeking to advance women's role in international trade and business. With 2,000 members in 30 chapters around the world, OWIT members are professionals engaged in all aspects of international trade. Together, our members make a significant contribution to global economic growth.
OWIT believes that women are a valuable resource in trade. Women-owned businesses are an increasingly important driver of change in the private sector for broader economic development. Many studies demonstrate that women's economic participation contributes to higher GDP levels. In Canada alone, for example, women-owned businesses contribute $150 billion to the economy per year, and employ more than 1.5 million people. But around the world, and also here at home, women continue to represent an untapped economic potential. The current NAFTA renegotiations offer an opportunity to develop and build on this potential. Gender is an essential issue for trade and for NAFTA.
It goes without saying that in the 23 years since NAFTA entered into force, technological progress has transformed North American business operations. The context in which trade takes place today is vastly different from what it was last century. Critical trade issues must be addressed. A few topics that we discuss regularly, for example, are supply chain transparency and labour standards equivalency. On a forward-looking basis, we wonder how emerging and newly emerged sectors will impact women and men.
We know that trade agreements impact men and women differently around the world. This is also true here at home. For example, women in the SME sector are less likely to access the credit they need to increase their participation in trade and fully benefit from the trade agreements that Canada signs. Evidence suggests that even when a sector expands as a result of trade liberalization, women are less likely to experience wage increases and are more likely to remain small producers. This is bad for everyone. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada confirms that female-owned SMEs exhibit lower growth rates compared with male-operated enterprises.
In general, OWIT strongly supports the inclusion of a gender component in all future international trade agreements. OWIT also believes that specific actions must be taken in parallel with trade agreements to improve the participation and economic impact of women in trade.
This brings me to three issues that OWIT would like to highlight today in the context of current NAFTA renegotiations.
First, OWIT supports Canada's commitment to pursuing free, open, and progressive trade that benefits all parties. As such, OWIT supports increasing focus on gender in NAFTA. Although negotiations on this matter may be difficult, we encourage ambition. OWIT was inspired by the modernization of the Canada-Chile trade agreement, which will enable all parties to benefit from the agreement through a better appreciation of how women can participate in trade and the impact of trade on women.
OWIT sees the strong potential of a trade and gender chapter in NAFTA, and encourages Canada, the United States, and Mexico to develop a model of co-operation to address trade and gender issues. A framework for trilateral committees considering gender and trade would be the minimum de rigueur action to be taken to demonstrate commitment on this issue. OWIT encourages Canada's trade negotiators to be aware of the various ways in which women and men operating businesses can be impacted differently by any renegotiated provisions. A gender analysis would offer concrete information about the differential impact of NAFTA on women and men.
OWIT believes that in the context of NAFTA greater focus on SMEs would have positive gender benefits because of the significant involvement of women in the SME sector.
In particular, SMEs would benefit from a more harmonized regulatory network that simplifies the complex administrative processes of North American trade. OWIT believes that a gender analysis of the question of mobility of persons would reveal how modernization of this chapter would best benefit women, men, and families. OWIT points to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement as an example to draw on.
To further support a progressive trade agenda, OWIT recommends using the gender and trade tool box developed by the United Nations, which is the first attempt to provide a systematic framework for policy-makers to evaluate the impact of trade reforms on women and to identify gender inequalities prior to implementation of trade agreements.