This summer, I attended a four-week long summer school in international trade law because it seemed like a fun way to gain expertise in another area of law and a good getaway from the Chennai summer.
Every year, the Centre for WTO Studies (an independent think-tank on WTO law which is housed at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi) conducts a one month intensive academy on International Trade Law & Policy. The Academy is conducted by CWS jointly with the World Trade Institute in Berne, Switzerland.
This year the Academy was conducted from 23rd May to 17th June. What drew me to the course was the eclectic mix of modules on offer: Basic Principles of GATT/WTO; Agreement on Agriculture; SPS & TBT; Trade & IPR; Trade Remedies; Investment Law; and Trade in Services. The faculty that was reigned in for this module comprised international trade experts, policy-makers, lawyers, WTO staff and economists; many of the resource persons teach the Master of International Law & Economics (MILE) programme and the International Economic Law & Policy (IELPO) programme at WTI and the University of Barcelona respectively; both these programmes are highly coveted among persons looking to specialize in International Trade.
The course accommodates 30 students and law professionals every year and the process for short-listing candidates is through an essay on a topic related to International Trade. The course fee is 10,000 for students and 25,000 for legal professionals. There were two modules offered every week (except for Week 3 which was solely devoted to Trade Remedies) from Monday to Friday, with each module covered in 2-3 days. Legal professionals had the option to choose which weeks they want to attend the course (depending on which module was of interest to them) and alternately pay 7000 per week instead of attending the full course. Radhika & I decided to attend the entire duration of the course.
We arrived in Delhi a day before the course was to begin; participants who were not from Delhi were provided accommodation in the IIFT hostel on a twin/triplicate sharing basis on an additional payment of 5,000 per person. Radhika & I had a room to ourselves which was actually quite spacious with an en suite bathroom shared between two hostel rooms.
My first day was quite memorable…we arrived in Delhi on 22nd afternoon in the midst of infernal summer heat (it had actually been raining in Chennai a few days before we were to leave for Delhi) and I found myself wondering whether we had indeed made the right decision to take a month-long break from our work to attend the summer school.
When I look back, I think that my apprehension at that time stemmed from the change that those 30 days would prove to be in my life…this was another instance when I was moving out of my comfort zone to venture in the unknown…I didn’t know at the time that the summer school was the best thing that could have happened to me!
While in my hostel room, I already started feeling home-sick for Chennai and I missed the familiar warmth of my place in Chennai…it was then that I saw a poster which was stuck in my hostel room:
“When I am sad I stop being sad and be AWESOME instead” [Quote by one of the characters in ‘How I met your mother’]
Sometimes the right words at the right time can be very powerful. It struck me in that moment that I could choose to either continue feeling down, or I could use my time at IIFT to do something purposeful…
A few days before the Academy was to start, participants were given access to a ‘Virtual Classroom’ where the readings for each module had been hosted. Participants were expected to read and come to class (this is the teaching pedagogy which is adopted in most universities abroad, where students do compulsory readings before a topic is discussed in class). I spent the remaining day doing my readings for the class on 23rd…at night, the weather grew stormy and it rained…this really lifted my mood and things really started to look up.
When I got up the next morning, I went for a short walk in the IIFT campus. While the campus itself is quite small, it is quite green and there is a beautiful garden in IIFT. I was much more positive about the course and I looked forward to my first class that morning.
When I entered the hall where the classes were to be conducted, I was really amazed to see that it was nothing of the sort of classrooms that we are so accustomed to in college…the hall was more like a conference room arranged to seat course participants in two concentric semi-circles, facing the lectern. It made us feel even more important to see our name plates at our seat.
The Academy opened with the first module on ‘Basic Principles of GATT/WTO’. The resource person for the module was Mr. Jan Bohannes, who has worked previously at the WTO, and is currently a lawyer at the Advisory Centre on WTO Law in Geneva. Half way into the first class, I knew that I was going to enjoy my time in the summer school. Unlike the lecture method of teaching that we are used to in Indian universities, classes in the summer school were quite interactive. The participants were a diverse mix of law students & professionals…there were students from various law schools in India (while most were pursuing their undergraduate studies, there were also students who were pursing their Masters or M.Phil). The class also had two participants from Afghanistan and one from Poland, making it “international” in the true sense. For some people, their previous exposure to International Trade Law was quite elementary while there were others who were specializing in the subject after studying it at the Masters level or having done fairly well at international trade law moots like ELSA and GIMC.
The classes would normally begin at 9:30 in the morning, with four classes scheduled in a given day. There were tea breaks and lunch during the day, where we were served gourmet-style Indian dishes. The lunch was a grand affair and the participants ate with the resource persons…it was a wonderful experience to be taught by persons who are considered experts in their field; some have even directly negotiated at the WTO and are part of the ongoing negotiations for some of the free trade agreements. Classes would be over by 4:30 every day and on some days, trade talks would be scheduled after classes where resource persons would speak on a contemporary topic in International Trade.
We also had a Career Talk during the summer school where we learned about the different career options in India & abroad for those who interested in pursuing a career in International Trade Law.
I enjoyed every day of the summer school. The classes were quite intensive given that each module had to be covered over a short span of 2-3 days, and I would read for the next day’s class every night. The IIFT library was open on weekdays and weekends. The Centre for WTO Studies has a section to itself in the library and has arguably the best books available in WTO Law and International Trade Law.
I also have fond memories of going to Sanjay Van (an urban forest located right opposite IIFT) where I would run on weekends.
Time really flew and before I knew it, the summer school had come to a close. In that one month, I had learnt far more in International Trade Law than I ever had in college, and I was convinced after doing the course that International Economic Law is a field that I definitely want to explore further and maybe even specialize in some day.
I would highly recommend the course to anyone with an interest in International Trade Law. It is every bit worth your time and money. While we were given participation certificates on the last day itself, we were also given a take-home exam at the end of the course which we had to complete within a month’s time. The idea behind the exam is that if you perform well, your course fee would be refunded (subject to a minimum class attendance requirement).
I got to meet wonderful people through the course and personally too, the summer school was an experience of moving out of my comfort zone. While most people choose to travel to take a break from the stress of their working life, the summer school invigorated me in a way that no holiday could. It introduced me to the wide and exciting field of International Economic Law & gave me better sense of where I want to go in my career.
For more information about the CWS-WTI Joint Academy, click here.
[This post was originally published on Game of Trade blog here.]