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Think tank recommends India set up new trade negotiating body

PTI Washington | Updated on July 16, 2021

Suggests recruiting fresh graduates and lawyers with required qualifications for trade negotiations

As India prepares for renegotiations and new trade negotiations with complementary markets including the UK, US, and European Union, a think tank paper has recommended establishing a new body of experienced trade negotiators with a designated trade representative within the ministry of commerce.

Normally, India’s trade negotiations are done by bureaucrats from the commerce ministry either through permanent representation in Geneva at the WTO or through a need-based swift move of other civil servants from relevant ministries, Ridhika Batra, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and vice president of corporate affairs, Americas for the Mahindra group, said in a report on India-US trade relations released by the think tank.

Notorious in leading negotiations

Inadequate resources and skill set can lead to a situation where officers work reactively instead of proactively on trade deals, she said underscoring that historically, India has been notorious in leading negotiations on behalf of developing countries at WTO or at GATT.

Whether it was leading the developing nations during the Uruguay Round to resist expansion of issues under trade in services like agreements on trade-related investment measures (TRIMS) and property rights (TRIPs), or during the Cancun Round to counter agricultural and farm subsidies for developed nations, India managed to stay in the limelight with half a dozen bureaucrats voicing the opinion of the developing markets. “There is not a dearth of talent in India, but an effort to mobilise a special unit of trade negotiators is required. A lateral movement of sector experts would bring in the necessary expertise,” Batra said in the paper ‘Looking Ahead: Strategies to Improve US-India Trade Negotiations’, which is part of the report – ‘Reimagining the US-India Trade Relationship’.

Observing that the Indian public and private sectors have had a global footprint for a decade, she said they have an active role in foreign-policy formulation that is reflected in international trade negotiations. “Recruiting industry experts in the ministry may result in biases. A simple option would be to set up a body within the ministry of commerce that recruits fresh graduates and lawyers who are not yet associated with any private-sector entity but have the required qualifications for trade negotiations,” Batra wrote.

Also read: Commerce Ministry seeks detailed inputs from stakeholders for proposed India-UK FTA

“If such a body is established, then what is worth cloning from the USTR model is the appointment of a designated trade representative as the principal adviser to the commerce minister on trade policy and on the impact of other Indian policies on international trade,” Batra said. This designated representative could be responsible for the trade policy graduates and lawyers, compensating for their lack of experience.

The designated trade negotiator also could be responsible for coordinating trade policy with other agencies, states, and industry representatives, and act as the principal international trade policy spokesperson for the ministry of commerce, she wrote. “By setting up a designated trade representative and trade wing, the ministry of commerce would have the capacity—purely dedicated to trade negotiations—to work actively toward new versions of deep trade agreements with tough negotiators,” Batra argued.

Published on July 16, 2021

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