In the previous chapter I showed how much of the literature on EU trade policy has tended to work with an implicit acceptance that the EU is somehow an ‘exceptional’ entity as a result of its institutional structure, with the latter seen as the main factor explaining EU trade policy. This body of work, I argued, struggled to explain the timing and content of the EU’s preferential trade strategy, which increasingly resembled that of its principal commercial rivals. In this chapter, my aim will be to arrive at a theoretical framework that draws on a broader literature in IPE in order to explain these developments. This framework is developed in two steps. I begin by considering a rationalist IPE literature which has emphasised the important ‘domestic-societal’ and ‘systemic’ drivers of preferential trade liberalisation. I argue that recent strands of this literature (in particular Manger 2009), seeking to combine insights from both ‘levels of analysis’, represent an improvement on rational institutionalism in that they draw attention to important features of the current wave of North-South preferential liberalisation of which the EU is a participant. Following on from this, my second purpose in this chapter is to show that, although the mainstream IPE literature begins to answer some of the questions raised in this volume regarding the EU’s preferential trade strategy, it still does not appreciate the important role of ideas in trade policymaking.
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