Small states, big deals

How can developing countries smaller than many multinational companies secure successful trade deals?

How do you negotiate a trade deal when you are smaller and weaker than the countries you want to negotiate with?

Research by Associate Professor Emily Jones is helping to show the way for the many small developing countries who face this problem.

Dr Jones worked closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat to find out why some small nations achieve success in trade negotiations, while others fail.

Crucially, the research was then turned into a handbook that is now widely used by negotiators.

Trade is vital to small states, but they are at a serious disadvantage when trying to navigate the complex network of global trade agreements, often brokered by the richest and largest countries who set the agenda.

Dr Jones and her colleagues gathered and analysed the views of small developing countries themselves on the constraints they faced in international trade negotiations, and identified some key lessons:

  • It is not helpful to pretend that small states are ‘equal players’. It is much better to acknowledge that power is unequal.
  • Trade negotiation requires fundamental skills that are not specifically taught (including manoeuvring, strategy and psychological techniques).
  • Small states have a lot of wisdom about successful negotiations, but often it doesn’t get passed on to others who could benefit.
  • Small states can help themselves by carefully considering how they prepare for negotiations.


In collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Jones created a ‘how to’ handbook based on the research, entitled ‘Negotiating Against the Odds’. This was the first guide of its kind to provide practical advice and lessons for trade negotiators from small developing countries.

The guide has been highly successful with government officials in developing countries with responsibility for trade negotiations, one of whom described it as ‘a ray of hope to small states’.

Dr Jones is now helping to train UK government officials for Brexit trade negotiations, reflecting the much wider application of the handbook’s lessons.


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