New Delhi: Realising the importance of being represented by competent trade officials at the World Trade Organisation, the ministry of commerce is creating a permanent cadre of negotiators.
Until now, the ministry had drawn negotiators from its Trade Policy Division (TPD), which represents India at the WTO. The problem lies in the short tenure of officials in this division, which is largely composed of officers from the Indian Administrative Service. IAS officers are usually moved around every three to five years. “Every five years there is practically a new team and it creates problems of continuity,” said a senior official at the ministry. “A new officer takes at least 3-4 weeks to update himself on WTO issues and with trade talks set to enter a phase of hard bargaining in the next year or two, it is important to have continuity,” the official added. Talks at the WTO, which had stalled in July 2006, have resumed in Geneva.
The ministry plans to get around the problem by increasing the number of Indian Trade Service officers in TPD. ITS is the administrative group from which trade officials are chosen. ITS officers are selected on the basis of a competitive examination, along the same lines as the examination for IAS. They are typically posted in the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, a commerce ministry division that deals with policies relating to exports and imports.
The ministry is also trying to make ITS an attractive career option. It recently conducted a review of the ITS. “The objective of the review was to see if the promotion of the officers in ITS could be speeded up,” said the official, adding that the current rate of progression was very slow.