The outcomes of international negotiations cannot be understood without considering how participants behave strategically. But how do “rules of the game” in negotiations—and the uncertainty that often surrounds them—shape this behavior? I examine the 2002–2007 period of the negotiations of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the European Union and West Africa. EPAs were meant to introduce a new development-oriented model of North–South trade agreements, but became the most contentious issue in EU-Africa relations in the past decade. I argue that both sides made misguided strategic choices. Their misperceptions of the rules operative in trade negotiations with a “development dimension” facilitated the emergence of an impasse during the 2002–2007 negotiating period of the EPA process. In order to explain why, we should conceive of bargaining processes as spaces defined by unstable and potentially contested rules. I offer three mechanisms —payoff disjuncture, choice-range disjuncture, and style disjuncture—that help account for how misperceptions of these socially constructed rules can prevent, or at least delay, cooperation. My approach complements rationalist theories that rely on the insights of game theory with a constructivist perspective that brings to light the socially constructed nature of negotiation processes. It sheds new light on the field of International Organization through focussing on the formal and informal rules that shape the (re)negotiations of global governance arrangements.
Clara Weinhardt is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences at the University of Bremen and a Research Associate at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. Her research interests combine questions of global governance with theoretical approaches to international negotiations, with a particular focus on the areas of trade and development. Her empirical research focuses on EU-Africa relations and emerging countries, especially China. She completed her PhD in International Relations at the University of Oxford; this talk draws on research that has appeared in International Studies Quarterly and is forthcoming in the Routledge Global Institutions Series.