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Complexity and Conflict in Global Trade

What’s the Role of the European Union?
Global trade has increased rapidly in recent years and this has caused both a high level of complexity and increased conflict as regards the “rules of the game”. A pivotal factor in this development is various layers of global law-making. Through a variety of initiatives by various rule-makers, i.e. states, international organisations, private organisations and larger companies, a globalisation wave has impacted powerfully on global markets. However, the world order based on free trade has also recently encountered strong opposition in some parts of the world. The change of President in the United States from Obama to Trump means that a leading force in the globalisation process now puts ‘America First’. Multilateral international negotiations aiming at the opening of markets have to a large extent come to a halt and national protectionism is increasing.

The fact that the global order is put into question creates a new environment for international trade which needs to be better understood and analysed, particularly as regards the “rule-making” in various forms and the issues of trust they raise. The European Union (EU) has an important role in this new global environment. The EU has the power to conclude bilateral trade agreements which better respond to claims of social injustice that are voiced today. It can also take actions to preserve and improve the multilateral trade system which has been very important to keep peace in the word, in particular by initiating a reform of the Word Trade Organization (WTO).

Our aim

The aim of this network is to analyse and contribute to better understanding of the growing conflict and dissatisfaction which seem to be widely spread regarding global trade today. There is no doubt that the development towards a global system of relatively open borders, free trade and a development towards democratic governance has been realised through persistent and hard work where the creation of a rule based international order has been of utmost importance. However, national, democratically elected, parliaments have to some extent lost their role as rule-makers when it comes to issues of trade. Instead, they have a perceived role as rule-takers; their main task today seems to be the adjustment of the national legal framework to rules established in complex processes and by various actors outside and above the nation state, such as the UN, OECD, WTO, EU. However, with the increasing complexity and conflict, the trust in this global system seems to be decreasing.

The project critically analyses the role of the rule-makers and the importance of trust in establishing the “rules of the game” for global trade today. The project is divided into three parts: public rule-makers at regional and global level, standard-makers which produce voluntary technical standards and socially oriented rule-makers, which produce global norms focusing on social values in the form of voluntary commitments in industry aimed at sustainable development, such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).


The network is composed of researchers from five faculties of Lund University and a number of external cooperation partners in the private and public sectors. For more information, contact:

Jörgen Hettne

E-mail: jorgen [dot] hettne [at] har [dot] lu [dot] se



Centrum för Europaforskning

Ekonomihögskolan vid Lunds universitet
Box 7080, SE-220 07 LUND

info [at] cfe [dot] lu [dot] se