When negotiators lose track of interests back home

Clara Weinhardt shows how negotiators in economic partnerships can become detached from constituencies.

A new study by Hertie School Lecturer in International Relations Clara Weinhardt and Anke Moerland of Maastricht University shows how trade negotiators, especially those representing developing countries, can become detached from the domestic interests they are meant to represent. Institutional constraints are one key reason why domestic constituents remain detached from the negotiation process. This can result in outcomes that are difficult to implement or that even fail to serve constituencies.

Relying on qualitative data, including over 60 interviews, the study assesses how negotiators have fallen prey to detachment by examining the outcomes of two North-South trade agreements: the  Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between the EU and the West African (2003–14) and the Caribbean (2003–07) regions.  

The researchers augment the well-known two-level game theory for negotiations, devised by US-based political scientist Robert Putnam (1988), to account for the possibility of detachment between negotiators and domestic constituents, and illustrate the added value of this adjustment.  

“To demonstrate the effects of detachment on the likelihood of reaching an agreement, we examine the extent to which it is plausible that the positions adopted reflect domestic preferences, the negotiator’s perceptions thereof or her own preferences,” Weinhardt and Moerland say in their paper. “As indicators for the pace of implementation, we analyse the steps already taken for implementation and the perceived legitimacy and knowledge of the agreement as indicated in public discourse.”

The findings show that it is important to invest in institutional capacities related to trade negotiation processes, and also may have implications for assessing negotiated outcomes. “Our findings raise serious doubts about whether EPAs will contribute to economic development and poverty reduction in the ACP regions,” the authors say, “... locking in reforms before domestic or regional constituents thoroughly assessed their interests at stake could prevent necessary policy changes in the future.”

Read the paper, published in the Journal of Common Market Studies on 9 November 2017.

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