Social Sciences Lecture Series | Lucia Coppolaro › view all

GATT/WTO and the Social Clause: Between Protecionism and Social Welfare

January 31, 2024 - 12:00-14:00
Unicom, 7.1020
Series: Social Sciences Lecture Series
Event type: public

Lucia Coppolaro (University Padua) on "GATT/WTO and the Social Clause: Between Protecionism and Social Welfare".



The interplay between trade liberalization—a cornerstone of globalization—and social welfare constitutes a pivotal and contentious subject in contemporary political discourse. This controversy has surrounded the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its antecedent, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), since 1947, both of which have played important roles in promoting trade liberalization. Central to this debate is the connection between free trade and labor standards, specifically the proposition of integrating a social clause within trade liberalization agreements. The discourse has ebbed and flowed in tandem with the globalization wave. Initially broached in 1947, the topic lay dormant until the late 1960s, a period when trade liberalization, chiefly orchestrated by Western nations with comparable policies and labor standards, went unchallenged. The dynamic shifted in the 1970s as nations with lower wages and labor standards entered the global market, propelling the issue to prominence in Geneva. With the ascent of new economies capable of competing in developed markets, the discourse over the interrelation of free trade and labor standards acquired a global dimension and became a focal point within the GATT framework. Despite heightened discussions in the mid-1990s, little progress was made on the social clause, mainly due to the resistance from emerging economies that had accrued substantial negotiation leverage in Geneva. The emergence of global economic integration in the 1970s underscored the disparities between competing nations at varying developmental stages, revealing the complexities of the trade-labor nexus. Concurrently, the burgeoning influence of emerging economies in global commerce altered the power dynamics within the GATT/WTO, effectively stalling the labor standards debate in Geneva.



Lucia Coppolaro is associate professor in International history at the Department of Political Science, Law and International Studies of the University of Padova, Italy. Her research is primarily focused on international economic institutions and international trade. She has published numerous articles on the EU trade policy and the evolution of trade liberalization under the auspices of GATT/WTO in journals, including Contemporary European History and The International History Review.


This lecture is organized by the CRC 1342 "Global Dynamics of Social Policy" and part of the CRC Jour Fixe event series.