Playing Different Games: Uncertain Rules in EU–West Africa Trade Negotiations

Clara Weinhardt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Web of Science)


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. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-296
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Cite this