Regional trade agreements and the pursuit of state interests: Institutional perspectives from NAFTA and Mercosur

Publication Title

Economy and Society

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Department or Program


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Historical institutionalism, International organizations, Mercosur, NAFTA, Rational choice institutionalism, Regional trade agreements


Are regional trade agreements (RTAs) carefully crafted projects that systematically advance their member states' interests or do they instead generate outcomes that frustrate those interests? Works on the most prominent RTA - the European Union - have traditionally been split over this question. New research on international organizations parallels that literature. Combining rational choice and historical institutionalism, this article makes a middle-ground case: the limited rationality of national representatives and the complexity of RTAs ensure both the advancement and frustration of national interests. The focus is on shifting national preferences, the unpredictable implications of decisions over time and the pursuit of short-term gains to the benefit of some constituents but not others. Evidence from NAFTA and Mercosur supports these claims while highlighting, in line with recent scholarship, the need to include politics in institutionalist accounts of integration. The conclusion reflects on the findings and explores whether alternative, more flexible designs for RTAs might satisfy more fully the interests of the member states. Copyright © 2008 Taylor & Francis.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.1080/03085140801933264