Please tell us about yourself
A MILE 11 (The Master of International Law and Economics) graduate, Harsh Hiroo Gursahani has carved out a role as a successful trade lawyer in India where he produces policy papers for the government and advises private clients on food law. The WTI spoke to Harsh on the sidelines of the World Trade Forum in Florence at the end of September.
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What impression have you formed of the World Trade Forum?
The World Trade Forum is a platform where trade lawyers/experts interact, share their insights and participate in discussions. For me, it acts as a form of continuing education, where I can learn from the developments and gauge the direction of future work in this field. It is of course a privilege to meet with the pioneers of the field through sessions organised by the WTI, my alma mater.
Tell us about the work you do.
I currently work at PLR Chambers, a boutique public policy law firm headquartered in New Delhi where I am the team lead for international trade and investment law, and the associate team lead for the practice of food law. I am also a junior counsel in the High Court.
At PLR Chambers, we assist governments, including the Government of India, on issues of public policy and legislative drafting. My team at PLR is responsible for matters relating to advice and representation for governments on WTO law (be it services or agriculture or non-agricultural market access), Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements, bilateral investment treaties, and allied trade remedies. I also carry out various other projects, reports and academic studies, as well as assist as expert adviser on trade issues. For instance, I am currently part of an UNCTAD project on collecting NTMs data in India. We are also working on policy papers on various topics, including digital trade.
I also work extensively on food law, which can be considered as domestic application of TBT and SPS. I advise private clients on compliance with food laws in India, labelling regulations, licensing requirements, import and export, divergence in standards and regulation between Europe, US, India and other countries. In addition I assist in representation before courts and adjudicating bodies.
After completing the MILE what did you do?
After MILE, I was initially a programme assistant with the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development’s Innovation and Intellectual Property team in Geneva. Later I returned to India to put my trade qualifications to use for my country. I started my private practice and became a Junior Counsel at the Bombay High Court. Simultaneously, I consulted on trade law matters with law firms. After gaining wide experience of the practice of law in India, I joined PLR Chambers.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
I was always inclined towards trade law. I researched on GATT in my first moot court. In my third year of law school at ILS Law College, University of Pune, I participated in a mock WTO, which was the tipping point.
In my fourth year summer break I came to Geneva to attend the summer school on WTO law at the Graduate Institute, where I learned about the WTI and then worked towards getting onto the MILE programme.
You still have contact with the WTI through the alumni network. Is it important to you to keep that connection going?
Yes. An inspiring professor, Pierre Sauvé, once told us, “The world requires 200 international trade law specialists; you are the 201st. ” You see, the trade network is so small – not just in India but across the world. Our paths are bound to cross, whether it’s with your fellow classmates, professors, or the MILE alumni. It’s incredible to see where MILE alumni are! We have worked together on projects and have also ended up on opposite sides of the table.
As far as the WTI faculty goes, well to say the least, they are the experts. There have been times when I’ve been stuck with a problem and have reached out to the professors, and always got a solution. I have never heard ‘no’ as an answer. All of them have gone out of their way to help.
At MILE you make friends and family. You also connect with a small community of trade professionals, that’s why it is so much more important to keep in touch.
What would you say to students considering the course?
I would say that it’s a remarkable course that they must take. It defines what you do. It won’t be easy, but it will prepare you to undertake any challenge – albeit not necessarily pertaining to your work life. It isn’t just a training for work – it is a training FOR LIFE.