ISLAMABAD - Muhammad Ashraf, director general Trade Policy, Ministry of Commerce, on Tuesday said that government was formulating the Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2018-23 through an extensive consultative process and intensive policy research.

“A series of consultations had been held with the private and public sector stakeholders in all the major export centres including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Sialkot, Faisalabad and Islamabad,” Ashraf said while addressing Public Private Sector Consultation on Gender and Trade Policy. The objective of the event was to consult the stakeholders for gender sensitive trade policy formulation and generating actionable policy proposals for increased participation of women in the mainstream economic activities. The session was co-chaired by director general, PITAD and Director General, Trade Policy, Commerce Division. The representatives of think tanks, public sector organisations, banks, academia, women chambers of commerce and civil society organisations participated in the session.

Director General Trade Policy, Ministry of Commerce, Muhammad Ashraf outlined the objectives and main policy thrust of the upcoming  STPF 2018-23. One of the bedrocks of the trade policy was the inclusive growth especially the gender mainstreaming. An international conference on gender and trade was held in Karachi as a consultative process of STPF, he added.  He said that according to IMF estimates, closing the gender gap could boost Pakistan’s GDP by 30pc. The upcoming STPF would be introducing special policy measures to support and facilitate women entrepreneurs for entry into the international exports arena. The policy would focus on institutionalizing the mechanism for adherence to the international conventions related to women, establishment of institutions and networks, coalition making with the relevant departments, facilitating women’s access to resources especially finances and capacity building on gender sensitivity, he said.

The participants appreciated the efforts of Commerce Division on making gender mainstreaming as one of the priority areas of trade policy. Ms Samar Ihsan, joint secretary, Commerce Division, informed that Pakistan was one of the 118 signatories of the Joint Declaration on Trade and Women's Economic Empowerment that was signed on the occasion of the WTO’ Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 and advocated the women participation in the international trade. The upcoming STPF 2018-23 has undertaken an important initiative to evaluate policies through gender lens to address bottlenecks and constraints for women, she added.

The participants from the leading think tanks, such as SDPI and PRIME, underscored the need to initiate research in gender impact of trade policy and free trade agreements. They emphasised that the policies should provide level playing field to the women entrepreneurs and refrain from creating new women specific interventions that later become counterproductive.

The participants from academia such as Fatima Jinnah Women University stated that the impact of trade policies at the household level may also be analysed. Representative of PREIA stressed the need for formulation of economic policies with special consideration to women entrepreneurs and labour force as they constitute 60% of the population and their social wellbeing had high bearing on overall human development indicators of the country.

The participants from the trade bodies proposed that the role of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan should be enhanced to enable women entrepreneurs to participate in the international delegations and exhibitions and in this regard, series of trainings and capacity building exercises should be organised on regular basis. Representative of Pakistan Women Economic Council said that the best way to reach out to women for ensuring their participation in the economic activities was to provide information through sources that were most accessible to women in general. The public sector organisations such as participants from the National Commission on the Status of Women and Planning Commission also participated in the session.