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publication March 8, 2022

Trade Facilitation Challenges for Women Traders and Customs Brokers in Brazil

Brazilian businesswoman

Brazilian businesswoman © Ibraim Leonard/Pexels

Trade is an engine of growth that creates jobs, reduces poverty, and increases economic opportunity. Women's labor income, in particular, contributes significantly to poverty reduction. In Brazil, the development agenda calls for increased opportunities for women to maximize their participation in international trade. Whilst Brazil is still one of the most closed trade regimes in the world, the country is committed to an ambitious trade facilitation agenda. 

Given the critical role of women in helping to reduce poverty coupled with the importance of trade in linking businesses to global value chains, the World Bank Group completed the Trade and Gender Study in Brazil to identify the specific challenges that men and women-led firms face in cross-border trade and determine where further reforms can be made. Over 1,500 trade firms and 300 customs brokers were interviewed. 

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The report provides a wealth of new data and includes a summary of key findings, as well as recommendations on how to address the main obstacles identified. 

Select findings 

In some areas, the cross-border trade barriers were commonly experienced by all respondents, regardless of gender. For example:

  • Over one-third of customs brokers and almost half of the traders reported that official regulations and processes are not easy to understand. Finding comprehensive information across border agencies, among other issues, was reported to be a key challenge. 

  • Despite efforts by the government to increase engagement with the private sector, 87 percent of traders and 70 percent of customs brokers say they have never been or are not regularly consulted on changes to processes and procedures related to trade. 

  • Less than a quarter of traders are aware of the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC).

Despite these common challenges, the survey did point to some areas that disproportionally impact women. Examples include:

  • More women customs brokers have difficulties when looking for information on official regulations and procedures and understanding it compared to men. Fewer women customs brokers found information related to changes to border processes and procedures as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic to be clear and easy to understand.

  • Almost half of the men customs brokers are aware of the Local Commissions on Trade Facilitation’s (COLFACs) compared to less than one-third of women. 

Interestingly, the survey also identified a few areas in which more men are disproportionally impacted. For example:

  • Fewer men than women traders believe that border processes are consistently implemented by border officials.

  • Of the traders that go to the airport, seaport, and land border posts, more men than women have experienced verbal harassment or threats and intimidation.

Port in Brazil

Port in Brazil © Rafael de Campos/Pexels

Select recommendations

The findings demonstrate an opportunity for Brazil to improve trade facilitation policies to better address all traders’ needs. Gender gaps should be addressed particularly in the following areas: 

  • Awareness of NTFC/COLFAC. To increase awareness among women customs brokers, the action plans and communications strategies of the NTFC and COLFACs should specifically target women. 

  • Access to and understanding of official regulations to border processes and procedures. The SISCOMEX website – a computer system that registers all the import and export procedures – should be enhanced to ensure that regulations and processes are easy to understand and written in clear and simple language. Virtual/in-person training and information sessions should be made available on trade-related information, and women should be particularly encouraged to participate in these.

  • Consistent implementation of border processes by border officials. Trainings should be offered to highlight the need for the consistent implementation of common customs and other border agencies procedures and uniform documentation requirements regardless of one’s gender.

  • Safety and security issues. Anti-harassment training should be offered to deter officials from acting negatively towards clients. Each border point should have a physical or virtual office or response unit to which traders and customs brokers can safely report incidents of harassment.

This analysis can help governments better understand trade barriers and design policy that maximizes the benefits of trade for women, so that they can participate more fully in the economy.

Support for the initiative was provided by the World Bank Group with funding from the Trade Facilitation Program in Middle Income Countries (TFMICs) -  funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) Prosperity Fund. This initiative provides assistance to Middle Income Countries to reduce the time and cost to trade by helping them meet the requirements of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.