LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

India seeks to address shortcoming in capacity to engage in trade negotiations

A friend of mine who served as comptroller of a large diversified conglomerate once told me that there was a clear difference between the business units within the conglomerate. Those which produced items for export were fixated on efficiency and were nimble in terms of responding to market demand. Those who produced goods and services for the local market were fat and lazy.

I was reminded of this when I read this report about India trying to do something about government capacity. Unlike in government entities that serve citizens, those that engage with the outside world cannot be fat and lazy. If they do not do their job well, the country suffers and the outcomes of their weak performance can be seen. In the case of those serving citizens, no one cares. They behave exactly like any monopoly would. Treat the customer badly and use political channels to get shielded from reforms.

Unlike other countries, where trade negotiators remain on the job for 20 years, the trade negotiating team in India is not permanent. This is because trade negotiators are pulled from government services such as the Indian Administrative Service, Revenue Service and Economic Service, and their continuation in a position is governed by the usual transfer posting rules, making it difficult for them to continue for long durations.

Experts said frequent changes in the team affect both the quality of negotiations at international fora and the final outcome.

They said the centres will help fill the gaps in the current structure of official trade delegations, in which there is often inadequate representation from think tanks. “These centres should do systematic and unbiased analyses on all critical issues in bilateral and multilateral negotiations,” said Biswajit Dhar, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and former head of Centre for WTO Studies. “They should then advise the government and provide negotiating options.”

LIRNEasia has been working on building capacity for effective participation in domestic policy processes. But the issue of effective negotiators for trade agreements is one that is fully within the decision making powers of those who run government. All we can do is point out the problem in the media and hope they will act.

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