top of page


Feel free to contact me for paper drafts.

Book Project

"The Politics of Constructive Ambiguity in International Trade Law"
Dissertation committee: Helen V. Milner (Chair), Gary J. Bass, James R. Vreeland, Layna Mosley, and Krzysztof J. Pelc (McGill University/Oxford University)
Presentations: ISA 2021, ISA 2023


Existing research on the design of international treaties and organizations argues that flexibility measures, such as escape clauses, foster cooperation in international law by providing leaders with lawful means to not comply with a treaty during unforeseen events in the future. Yet the language negotiators draft to define a country's commitments varies immensely, often reintroducing uncertainty into treaty commitments, including escape clauses. If uncertainty erodes trust amongst states, why then sign onto an agreement that is general, ill-specified, or open-ended – and stick with it? My book project specifically seeks to explain this phenomenon, with a specific focus on preferential trade agreements (PTAs) including the 1947 Havana Charter for an International Trade Organization (ITO) and the subsequent General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).


My book begins from the premise that the negotiating practice of “constructive ambiguity” – defined as the deliberate use of ambiguous language to address a sensitive issue in a negotiation – is widespread in the design of international trade law but varies significantly. I argue that when state leaders won’t tolerate negotiation failure, but state preferences are irreconcilable, negotiators will rely on ambiguous language to facilitate agreement in the present, knowing they can return to the negotiating table in the future. While the field of international relations argues that uncertainty in treaty commitments between countries erodes cooperation, my research shows many circumstances where the opposite is true: by introducing uncertainty into a treaty, constructive ambiguity facilitates cooperation precisely because it leaves commitments open-ended. Importantly, if politicians later introduce certainty through definition (via negotiation) or interpretation (via courts), they can unravel the essential compromise that fostered agreement.


Starting with a theory chapter, I lay out the definitions and assumptions behind my theory of constructive ambiguity following insights from mini-cases in national security, human rights, global health, and climate change agreements. My second chapter then offers a historical study of the causes of constructive ambiguity during negotiations towards the Havana Charter for an International Trade Organization (ITO) and ultimately, the GATT in 1947. Relying on over 10,000 pages of archival records collected from 5 archives in 3 countries, I evaluate the positions of American, British and Canadian negotiators toward 5 official draft agreements. In my third chapter, I evaluate how cooperative dynamics change when the likelihood of future negotiations declines. To do so, I examine how the litigation of ambiguous treaty language has occurred during the WTO era in the institution’s dispute settlement mechanism before and after the stalling of multilateral negotiations in 2001. Building an original dataset of all third-party participants in WTO disputes filed between 1995 and 2020, I find that a “systemic interest” in how WTO rules are ultimately interpreted generates active engagement with the institution. Lastly, in my fourth chapter, I evaluate perceived changes in the costs of negotiation failure in an original dataset of all initiated negotiations towards a trade agreement by the United States and Canada from 1978 to 2020 (N = 68). This chapter highlights changes in the second key condition in my theory: tolerance for negotiation failure varies and, with it, the likelihood of negotiation success. I find that PTA negotiation failure has risen after 2005, whereafter 50% of attempts to negotiate a PTA have resulted in no agreement at all. Using a multi-method approach, I find that as the cumulative number of PTAs increases and the status quo becomes more tolerable, the likelihood of negotiation success declines precipitously.


“Exploiting Treaty Ambiguity: Public Health Exceptions And Compulsory Licensing In Trade And Investment Agreements”

with Sojun Park (Princeton University)

Review of International Organizations (2023). Open access at:

Treaty exceptions have long been viewed as essential to the design of international agreements. Yet, agreements also leave ‘room to maneuver’ through the use of constructive ambiguity, that is, by defining treaty terms with deliberately ambiguous words. When are countries more likely to exploit this treaty ambiguity? What does this exploitation look like? We argue that in democratic countries, where states face continued pressures to react to domestic needs, governments are more likely to legislate unambiguous circumstances in which they can apply international treaty exceptions. We argue this should be especially true in developing democracies facing external pressure from foreign firms and developed countries to legislate public policy with their external interests in mind. We test our theory in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and compulsory licensing legislation for HIV/AIDS drugs between 2000 and 2012. We find that when public access to medicines for HIV/AIDS is limited but in high demand, democratic governments are more likely to legislate explicit public health protection under TRIPS exceptions, especially in developing countries with high rates of foreign patent ownership. We conclude that such exploitation is most likely when countries seek to prevent precedents by action, or adjudication, that better define constructively ambiguous treaty terms.

"When 'Home' Becomes the 'Field': Ethical Considerations in Digital and Remote Fieldwork"
with Marnie Howlett, Oxford University
Perspectives on Politics (2023). Published on FirstView November 2022. Open access at doi:10.1017/S1537592722002572 

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the unpredictability and instability of fieldwork as a method for data collection. In addition to political dynamism, the last two years have been marked with significant social and economic disruptions at both domestic and global levels. As the pandemic has prompted an increased use of digital tools to conduct research remotely, especially in light of international travel bans and social distancing measures, new ethical questions have arisen as both our field sites and"homes" have evolved. While it is certainly necessary to consider how dynamic field sites intersect with our ethical obligations (Knott, 2019), in this paper, we stress the need for scholars to also reconsider how we conceive of our ethical obligations institutions wherein we have conducted research without ever physically accessing our field sites or interacting in person with our participants. We accordingly urge researchers to re-evaluate their ethical responsibilities around transparency and replicability in the dissemination and publication of findings when engaging in fieldwork "from home."These considerations were important prior to 2020, albeit not widely discussed, and are especially relevant within the context of the pandemic as scholars remotely enter new field sites or return to those previously visited in person. This paper therefore starts a conversation about ethical practices in remote and digital fieldwork, which will continue to prove significant going forward as digital and remote methods are used for data collection in a post-pandemic world

Working Papers

"Finding our 'Homes' in 'Field' and the 'Field' in our 'Homes'" with Marnie Howlett (Oxford University).

Revise and resubmit Summer 2024.

Our contribution centers on the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated our understanding of fieldwork by blurring the spatial, temporal, and emotional divides between ‘home’ and ‘the field’. In this paper, we highlight the complex ways these places now merge and overlap as scholars have come to regularly conduct research from their homes, and the larger implications for and ethics surrounding researcher-participant interactions and researcher mental health. In doing so, we also explore the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘the field’ within the context of fieldwork more broadly, and ask whether these sites are always, if they can ever be, completely disentangled due to their fundamental roles in the production of knowledge.

"Choosing not to conclude: mapping Canadian and American efforts to negotiate preferential trade agreements (1980-2020)."

Presentations: IPES 2021


How often do attempts to negotiate preferential trade agreements (PTAs) collapse? What explains these bargaining failures, and how has tolerance for negotiation failure changed over time? Using process tracing and archival research methods, I construct an original dataset of all negotiations towards a PTA initiated by the United States and Canada between 1980 and 2020. While both countries have collectively signed and ratified 35 PTAs since 1980, they have also attempted to negotiate another 31 separate agreements that ultimately yielded no treaty of any kind. Surprisingly, negotiation failure happens often: since 1980, 46% of initiated PTA negotiations by Canada and the United States have failed; however, these negotiation failures are disproportionately concentrated after the mid-2000s. Logistic regression and survival analysis demonstrate a correlation between the likelihood of negotiation failure and the cumulative number of ratified PTAs. A case study of the attempted Canada-India PTA indicates that the policy priorities of specific leaders, and the cumulative number of successful agreements making the overall costs of no agreement lower over time, matter a great deal. As PTAs become more ambitious, the prerogatives of specific leaders in developed democracies may easily frustrate and prolong efforts to liberalize international trade. This data also invites future research to revisit the causes and factors determining which countries sign PTAs, as existing research has largely ignored the negotiation process.

"Silence is Golden? Revisiting Third Party Participation in World Trade Organization Litigation"

Presentations: ISA 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19), PEIO 2019, APSA 2020

While the dispute settlement mechanism (DSM) is one of the primary benefits of World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, developing countries rarely utilize this system as complainants. Scholars have highlighted the alternative accessibility of third party status for member states with low levels of legal and bureaucratic capacity to engage in litigation. Yet contrary to these theories, 22% of all third parties in disputes with a ruling are ”silent”, in that such countries do not submit any oral or written testimony. What explains these ”silent” third parties? I argue that a state’s level of engagement in the WTO DSM is better predicted by whether a state possesses a preference to influence the rules and norms of an international regime, but this preference is only meaningful when states have the bureaucratic capacity to act on it. Using large-N statistical analyses and a case study of DS267, United States – Upland Cotton, I show that when states have limited capacity to navigate the friction of operating bureaucracies at home and in Geneva, their predicted probability of submitting testimony as a third party reduces by as much as 34%. This paper highlights the importance of engaging with the details of state engagement with IOs.

"What can we learn from failed economic negotiations?: lessons from BITs and PTAs"

(with Haillie Na-Kyung Lee, Seoul National University)

Presentations: APSA 2020, PIPCOSS 2020, VIPES 2020, PEIO 2021

How often do attempts to negotiate bilateral investment treaties (BITs) or preferential trade agreements (PTAs) fail? What explains these negotiation failures, and what do policymakers take away from these negotiation efforts? Using process tracing and archival research methods, we construct an original dataset of failed BIT and PTA negotiations by the United States and Canada between 1980 and 2020. We find that negotiation failure happens often: 33% of initiated BIT negotiations fail, and 46% of initiated PTA negotiations fail. Evaluating this data, we provide preliminary evidence that the primary determinants of negotiating failure include electoral turnover in at least one of the negotiating parties and the scope of negotiations. We conclude with a discussion of future data collection efforts and a research design for further quantitative work on this topic. In an era of conflictual diplomatic relations, this article highlights the prevalence of failed negotiations towards trade and investment agreements and the importance of evaluating bargaining failure in the study of international political economy (IPE).

"Building Blocks as Stumbling Blocks: The Geopolitics of Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs)"

(with Haillie Na-Kyung Lee, Seoul National University and Shea Minter, Georgetown University)

Presentations: MPSA 2021

Existing research on the design of international economic agreements has mainly focused on preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and bilateral investment treaties (BITs), omitting any discussion of Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs). In this paper, we introduce and analyze a novel dataset of TIFAs signed between 1975 and 2020. We find these agreements are 4 pages on average and are signed most frequently by the United States to establish normalized meetings between parties with the goal of signing a BIT or PTA in the future. However, in almost all cases TIFAs have not led to the signing of additional deeper agreements. While the US has signed 54 TIFAs, only one of them (the 2002 US-Bahrain TIFA) has led to a successful PTA negotiation. This observation directly goes against the building block hypothesis that TIFAs lead to BITs, which lead to PTAs (Tobin & Busch, 2010). If TIFAs are not effective tools of economic integration, why are they ever signed? We hypothesize that TIFAs serve a greater geopolitical purpose than economic purpose, and do not universally adhere to the standard building blocks hypothesis. Instead, they often act as stumbling blocks: when TIFAs fail to lead to BITs and PTAs, but negotiators expect them to, diplomatic relations suffer and collapse. We find these expectations not only damage bilateral economic relations, but also general diplomatic relations.

"Loss or Benefit? Framing the Effects of Free Trade in Surveys"

Presentations: Princeton Pizza & Politics Seminar (Spring, 2019)

How do framing effects in canonical surveys impact measures of individual-level protectionism? Scholars have traditionally measured support for free trade with individual-level responses to the American National Election Survey (ANES), the International Social Survey Program/General Social Survey (ISSP/GSS), the World Values Survey (WVS), the National Annenberg Election Study (NAES) or the Pew Global Attitudes Project. However, each survey uses different “frames” to explain the potential impact of free trade policy to respondents. I argue that surveys positing larger potential losses from free trade are more likely to induce protectionism in respondents. In an original Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) survey experiment, I show that respondents answering the NAES question were most likely to support free trade, followed by those answering the ANES question, then the WVS question, and lastly the ISSP/GSS question. I also show that susceptibility to negative framing effects is highest amongst least educated respondents. Most importantly, in replicating key studies of support for free trade, I show that models in support of the Heckscher-Ohlin and Ricardo-Viner model can depend heavily on the question used to measure individual-level support for free trade. By evaluating the validity of existing survey questions related to free trade, this paper demonstrates the fundamental importance of question selection and measurement strategy in survey experiments when studying individual-level preferences

Research in Progress

"Are Tariffs Sexist? The Politics of Gender and Trade Protection" (with Krzysztof J. Pelc, McGill University)


Does gender affect policy responses to political demands? In this article, we ask this question in the context of trade protection: are female-dominated industries offered different rates of protection than male-dominated sectors? Using data from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Bank's recent Gender Disaggregated Labor Database (GDLD), we present a first sense of the trade protection offered to female vs. male-dominated industries for 185 countries between 1991 and 2020. We show that while female-dominated sectors like textiles have traditionally been associated with higher rates of protection, they have also seen disproportional liberalization in recent decades, while male-dominated sectors have been offered longer adjustment periods. The discrepancy is especially pronounced in developed countries. Drawing on existing work, we also find that legislatures with greater female representation are associated with higher rates of protection for female-dominated industries, in a way that speaks to the political origins of the discrepancy. Our findings hold implications for one of the most enduring puzzles in the study of trade preferences, which has consistently found more protectionist attitudes among women. One possible explanation is that in recent decades, women have simply had to adjust to greater changes in trade competition, and policymakers have been less willing to offer female-dominated industries protection during hard times.   

To see more or discuss possible work let's talk >>
bottom of page