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Second, these institutions are staffed and directed by (boundedly) rational state actors whose roles and preferences have their own causal weight. This relational concept of the state commends a focus on the policy regime – the enduring institutions, laws and norms mediating state–society relations in a policy issue-area. Again, the contrast with a society-centred approach is worth highlighting. The policy regime is conceptualised as a concrete feature of domestic policy structure, rather than simply being the product of interest group struggle.

During the former, the United States reduced its tariffs by an average of 20 per cent on all dutiable imports, notable because of the heavy reliance by other countries on quantitative restrictions (Curzon 1965: 70). During the latter, major participants reduced tariffs by about 35 per cent on their non-agricultural imports that accounted for roughly 80 per cent of industrial countries’ dutiable imports (Pastor 1980: 118–19). Beyond the crisis phase of depression and war, a number of factors helped to reinforce and secure executive primacy at the heart of the 1934 policy regime.

This institutional bargain struck during the Great Depression allowed the executive branch to implement an internationalist trade policy centred on the reciprocal reduction of trade barriers. After the Second World War, the United States (in particular the US State Department) played the lead role in the establishment of the GATT – a new multilateral system of trade rules. The capacity of President Roosevelt’s successors to link a relatively liberal, multilateralist trade policy with such wider foreign policy interests as alliance building and Cold War anti-communism helped to cement a central role for the executive branch in US trade policy.

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