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Minister Freeland Accepts WIIT’s “Woman of the Year” Award

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June 14, 2019

This week, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs was given the “Woman of the Year” award by the Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT) in Washington, DC. In her acceptance remarks, the Minister touched on why we need more women in trade and reminded the audience what they all know: free trade lifts up economies. Here’s some of what she said:

The Minister began her remarks acknowledging how far women have come. She spoke about her mother’s activism and Canada’s fight for women’s rights, but noted: And I grew up thinking that by the time I came of age, the fundamental issue of women’s rights would have been resolved. I thought this was my mother’s fight – not mine.

She continued to explain that not only is women’s inclusion good for business, it has other positive societal effects: Economic growth is stronger when women are allowed their rightful and equal place. When women are included in governance, states are more stable. When women and girls are included in the peace process, peace is more enduring … But I also want to encourage us all to never shy away from this essential truth – women’s rights are human rights.

So, what about women’s role in trade policy? The Minister made clear women’s value in this arena isn’t simply that “women are uniquely virtuous or caring.” She said: In addition to being plain wrong, I am convinced that kind of cheerleading confines women to just another pink ghetto. But women do have a shared experience of being barred from leadership, from the seat at the head of the table. Pick any kind of power and consider the hard numbers … All of us here, as women, have been excluded, and we know how harmful that is. All of us here, as women in trade, know that – done right – globalisation makes everyone more prosperous. So let’s work together to make trade work for everyone – and let’s keep chipping away at the glass ceiling while we are at it.

Minister Freeland went on to explain her view of the current state of global trade: I think we are agreed that it is not, as the Luddites unsuccessfully proposed at the start of the Industrial Revolution, to stop the march of technology. We all love our smartphones too much! When it comes to trade, we need to introduce labour standards with real teeth, as Canada and the EU have done in our gree trade agreement and as we – Canada, the United States, and Mexico – have done in the new NAFTA. It is long past time to bring the WTO up to date with realities of 2019 and beyond. We need to seriously address non-tariff barriers to trade and forced technology transfers.

That said, the Minister pointed to other actions that should be taken to address the rise in protectionism: The Chief answer to the legitimate grievances of the middle class lies in domestic policy … We need to think about what the jobs of the future for our citizens will be and ensure that those jobs will pay a living wage and that our people will have the skills to do them.

Overall, the Minister reminded us why we trade: Trade is not a prize we grant to our partners as a reward for good behavior, nor is it a boom we altruistically bestow. We trade because it’s good for us. We remove those rocks from our harbors, those tariff barriers to help ourselves.

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