Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Kenneth P. Erickson

Subject Categories

International Relations | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies | Political Science


decisionmakers, economic strategies, ideas, leaders, national interests, regional integration


Regional integration agreements (RIAs) facilitate economic integration by allowing member countries access to each other's markets and by removing or reducing trade and investment barriers. Their increasing influence on international patterns of trade and investment flows has stimulated substantial academic work. Yet, scholars note that we lack an adequate comprehension of the factors that cause governments to seek RIAs, and why they prefer a particular type of integration arrangement. These are important questions because they speak to the forces that shape cooperation among states, a vital issue in international relations with implications for global governance.

Using an eclectic analytical approach, this investigation tackles those questions by focusing on the relative role of governmental leaders, ideas, national interests, and economic development strategies. It does so via a comparative study of the foreign policy processes and decisions that led Mexico and Brazil to seek economic integration with neighbors within their respective North and South American regions, which resulted in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the United States and Canada, and the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) between Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. In-depth case studies of Mexico and Brazil are followed by a comparative analysis of similarities and differences in their respective processes and decisions.

The main conclusion confirms the importance of powerful decisionmakers within the executive as pivotal political actors whose preferences are critical in determining regional integration outcomes. Leaders choose the economic development strategy that establishes how they want to configure the country's relations with the world economy, which is a major factor influencing regional integration decisions. In turn, the interpretation of core national interests by top decisionmakers is an important variable shaping the choice of development strategy. Finally, leading policymakers' political and economic ideas represent a crucial intervening factor because they provide the lens through which national interests are interpreted, economic strategies are chosen, and specific integration policies are decided upon.

The study was conceived as an empirical political investigation. It relies on data collected in Mexico and Brazil via interviews with local analysts and observers and relevant political and economic actors, and through archival research.