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Ideas and Legitimating Discourse in EU and US Agricultural Policy-Making and their Implications for Transatlantic Trade Relations

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AGRIDEASCOURSE.TRADE (Ideas and Legitimating Discourse in EU and US Agricultural Policy-Making and their Implications for Transatlantic Trade Relations)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2019-07-31

Agriculture is a major EU policy with implications that go far beyond the purely agricultural domain. While formerly considered to be mainly a cause of environmental degradation, agricultural policy is now regarded as one of the main sectors through which global food and environmental challenges can be tackled. It is also a key policy field in international trade negotiations, albeit one that often causes tensions and conflicts. The regulative diversity, divergent commercial interests, and trade disputes that characterize the relation between domestic agricultural policies and international trade lie at the root at such problems. Agricultural policy is particularly a significant bone of contention in transatlantic trade relations, impeding not only negotiations on the World Trade Organization, but also in the negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which have come to a complete standstill. This research project aims to explain the why and how of agricultural policy change in the EU and the US and the interaction of these changes with transatlantic trade relations. This will help policy makers understand the underlying problems and constraints and grants insights in how these could most effectively be solved, in order to tackle issues that are of major importance to society, such as environmental sustainability, food safety and food security.

On a theoretical level, the project seeks to enhance the recognition and application of an ideational approach in the study of Agricultural Policy and Trade, a research domain where the explanatory role of ideas (what actors think about what they do) and discourse (what actors say about what they think about what they do) has hitherto be underestimated. By applying a Discursive Institutionalist approach that combines a focus on actors, their ideas, their interests, and the institutions through which they seek to put their preferences forward, the project seeks to provide a more complete and convincing explanation of the why and how of the incremental processes of policy change that characterize agricultural policy.

The overall objectives of the project are thus to use theoretical innovation to gain more insights in existing agricultural policies in the EU and the US and their effect on transatlantic trade relations, in an effort to provide policy insights that will aid (EU) policy makers in the future.
The project started on the 1st of August 2016 and established a collaboration between the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Radboud University (the Netherlands) and the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University (United States). This environment proved exceptionally amenable to implement both the research objectives and training objectives of the project during the outgoing phase until July 31st 2018. The project was continued during the return phase at Radboud University between the 1st of August 2018 and the 31st of July 2019.

In terms of research objectives, the fellow was able to develop a theoretical framework and methodological approach combining qualitative document analysis with computer-aided content analysis (in NVIVO) and network analysis in the first 6-9 months of the project. This approach was subsequently applied in the empirical research phase, in which a multitude of of government documents, parliamentary proceedings, interest group position papers and newspaper clippings were collected and analyzed, supplemented by a total of 30 in-depth interviews with EU officials and US government officials. The analysis of these sources provided valuable insights in the causes of agricultural policy changes in the EU and the US and their interactions with international trade policy. The research's results were successfully disseminated both to academic audiences (conferences and scientific journal publication) and broader non-academic audiences (media performances, blog contributions, public lectures and participation in roundtables).

In terms of training objectives, one-on-one coaching by the supervisors and experts at Radboud University and Boston University, in combination with courses on issues such as 'Mixed Methods', 'NVIVO', 'Discourse Network Analysis', 'Communicating Science' and 'How to write an ERC grant proposal', allowed the fellow to further develop her methodological and complementary skills. This did not only contribute to the proper execution of the project in terms of research goals, but also to the fellow's personal career goals, involving developing an independent research line, enhancing research excellence and visibility and extending relevant academic networks.
Scholarship was significantly advanced in this project through a combination of theoretical and methodological innovation and in-depth and extensive case study analysis. This has contributed to the enhanced recognition of ideational approaches in the field of Agricultural Policy Studies. The empirical results have not only given rise to academic publications and practical policy implications, but were also used to inform broader audiences both in the EU and the US. By contributing to the debate on agriculture and trade - and related relevant discussions on issues as Brexit, 'fake' news and 'fake' democracy - the project thus also contributes to educating interested audiences on issues that were hitherto considered rather technical and confined to the sphere of policy-makers and administrators.