As a new assistant law professor in fall 2006, Chris Brummer had not yet taught his first law class when he boarded a bus as one of several new faculty members invited by then-Chancellor Gordon Gee to participate in Vanderbilt's Roads Scholar Tour. For the next three days, Brummer and 47 other Vanderbilt faculty, students and staff visited several communities, businesses and organizations in Tennessee where Vanderbilt research or other initiatives have had a positive impact.
Sitting in the seat beside Brummer on the bus was another new faculty member, Brett Benson, who had joined Vanderbilt's political science faculty. Besides hitting it off personally, Brummer and Benson were surprised to discover they had a mutual professional interest; both were studying international cooperation and how effectively international trade agreements worked in various regions of the world. Before the trip was over, the pair had agreed to meet regularly to discuss such issues.
Over the past two years, Brummer and Benson's discussions have blossomed into a research project that now includes Ben Zissimos from the economics department and recent Ph.D. graduate Mostafa Beshkar, now affiliated with Purdue University. Together, the four were recently awarded a $114,000 research grant by Vanderbilt's Center for the Americas. The team also secured a year of funding for an additional post-doctoral research associate.
Their study explores the reasons why international agreements vary substantively across levels of bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. The team plans to address three factors in depth. First, Brummer's work group will assess how often country leaders attempt to link trade to other non-trade issues such as security, labor and the environment. Second, they plan to examine the degree to which trade agreement negotiations are frustrated by the lack of shared information by prospective trade partners. Finally, they will explore how multilateral trade agreement designs are noteworthy for the presence or lack of formal rules and informal norms enforcing the exclusivity of the agreement.
Although the scholars plan to gather data concerning trade agreements from around the world, much of their focus will be on agreements in South America. "Some of the most interesting activity relating to regional trade cooperation is occurring in Central and South America," Brummer says, "and we are really grateful to the Center for the Americas for providing funding for this project. The grant from the Center for the Americas will enable us to collect and examine data, isolate certain factors, and see if we can detect certain patterns."
Brummer, who will spend fall 2008 working as an Academic Fellow with the Securities & Exchange Commission's Office of International Affairs, credits Vanderbilt for fostering a collaborative environment that allowed "four similarly situated junior faculty members" to garner funding for a joint, interdisciplinary research project. "There's a very strong norm of cooperation at Vanderbilt that facilitates lots of opportunities for very fun collaboration," he says. "From my first day at Vanderbilt on the bus tour, I not only had the chance to meet great people, but also to build professional relationships that are allowing me to engage in cutting edge research."