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Underpinning this article is the proposition that regional integration with a social dimension has the potential to engender a more equitable pattern of globalisation. The empirical focus of the article is on the extent to which the insights of ‘embedded liberalism’ associated with regional economic integration between the industrialised nations of the European Union (EU) can be applied to regional economic integration within sub-Saharan Africa. The article contends that EU market liberalisation has been embedded within labour market institutions and institutions of social citizenship at the domestic level. These have served as social stabilisers to counter the far-reaching effects of the internal market and global trade. Less industrialised nations have never enjoyed adjustment mechanisms of this sort, raising the question for this article, and for further research: in which legal and institutional structures can these nascent forms of market integration at regional and sub-regional level be embedded?