In the literature on international trade, the second half of the nineteenth century is generally characterized as one with two very different faces: trade was liberalized from 1860 until the mid-1870s and turned protectionist again thereafter. This discontinuity in the development of commercial relations goes along with much continuity regarding the domestic goals governments pursued in international trade negotiations. The French executives' primary goal was to implement their trade policy in a way that created at least as many domestic political benefits as costs. One key instrument with which the French government pursued this objective was the form of cooperation, which is an often-neglected issue in the international relations literature. The comparative analysis of two cases of French trade policy making – the Anglo-French agreement of 1860 and the Méline tariff of 1892 – will highlight how bilateral cooperation was used as an instrument to accommodate the interests of domestic economic groups having contradictory trade policy preferences. Expanding this view to the twentieth century, it can be seen that the domestic political processes of 1860 and 1892 involve many elements that are considered basic to modern trade policy-making. It can be tentatively hypothesized that trade policy-making is characterized by a common logic of balancing societal support independently of the commercial policy that is implemented and the reasons for why it is sought.