EU delegation and agency in international trade negotiations: a cautionary comparison

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Series Details Vol.45, No.4, November 2007, p883–903
Publication Date November 2007
ISSN 0021-9886
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Article is part of a special issue ‘The EU in International Trade Negotiations’.


The principal-agent (PA) approach is increasingly used to explain how and why the EU formulates its trade policy and engages in international trade negotiations. This article evaluates the utility of PA in trade policy through a comparative analysis of the EU's participation in two different international negotiations: the International Competition Network and World Trade Organization (2001–06). The comparison of EU institutions and activities in these two empirical cases suggests that while PA seems well suited to explain international negotiations in regulatory policies (competition), it seems less suited to explain developments in distributive policies (trade). The findings, which reveal potential problems of multiple agents and a greater likelihood of observational equivalence in trade policy, advise caution when using PA to explain the EU's behaviour in international trade negotiations.

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