11 Mar 2014

MILE Alumni Profiles: Darius Rao

"I have not seen any academic programme in the world providing such insightful teaching on international trade law and policy."

Darius Rao, a graduate of MILE 11, has carved out a career in international trade policy after earlier focusing on refugee law. The policy advisor with a not-for-profit organisation in Geneva tells us the background knowledge in WTO law he acquired on the MILE programme has been indispensable in his current job.

What is your background?
My background is of a multidisciplinary nature. Before going into the nitty-gritty of international trade law and policy, I first studied international relations in Geneva. While I decided to mostly focus my attention on international public law issues, notably refugee law on which I have also gained some professional experience, I always had a strong penchant for issues related to trade and its impact on the development of low and middle-income countries.

Tell us about your current job
I currently work as a policy advisor for a small but very active Geneva-based organisation named IDEAS Centre, which focuses its work on providing technical assistance and policy advice to developing countries on trade-related matters. It is a very exciting job as there is no such thing as routine at work. The wide range of activities I carry out goes from analysing specific policies implemented in a particular country, to conceptualising projects with partners on a demand-driven basis, to elaborating tailored-made policy advice for a particular stakeholder within a government.

What are your fields of interest?
The scope of my interests is quite extensive. While I am predisposed to keep my mind open, I have always been particularly interested in agricultural trade and food security issues. Food security is a pretty broad subject and trade just plays a part in it. There are many solutions that countries affected by food insecurity can take advantage of to abate its adverse effects, but the range of measures that have to be undertaken is usually cross-cutting and necessitates the intervention of all kinds of public and private stakeholders at different institutional levels (local, regional, global and so forth). We are talking here about a gargantuan task and I believe that the WTO as a forum of exchange can play an important role if it collaborates closely with its Members and other relevant international organisations. Other than that, the topic of economic regional integration is of strong personal interest to me. My experience at the European Free Trade Association made me realise how trade can concretely play a role for enhanced cooperation and mutually beneficial partnership between countries sharing the same development objectives. I believe that regional schemes can be used as a means for many developing economies to strengthen their trade and political relations. It is a pity that many countries still do not hold enough capacity to engage in such a potentially constructive process.

What made you decide to join the MILE programme?
A subtle mix of personal interest and coincidence made me discover the MILE programme. When I looked at the substance of the course, I knew this was the right one for me. So far, I have not seen any academic programme in the world providing such insightful teaching on international trade law and policy. Moreover, at the time of my application, I did not even know about the great mix of students and professors from all sorts of backgrounds, which is another great strength of the programme.

How did the MILE prepare you for your current position?
To work efficiently and productively, my job requires strong background knowledge of WTO law and policy as well as macro-political economy dynamics ruling the world trading system. In that sense, the MILE course provided me with solid tools, enough to weave a supportive knowledge web on which I can rely each and every day. Without these background assets, I would not be able to carry out my tasks efficiently (in other words: I would probably not have got a job in this field!).

What key lessons did you learn?
I would say that there are various lessons I have learned from the MILE, but one stands out particularly. Analysing or merely discussing international trade issues cannot be downplayed to the use of mere arguments stemming from a single discipline. Whether you work on dispute settlement or customs matters or something else, the scope of issues encompassing international trade is multifaceted and multilayered. Analysis has to take into account a complex set of factors in order to be really pertinent (politics, macro and micro-economy, regulatory frameworks, international relations, social issues and even cultural practices sometimes).

How would you hope to see your career develop?
After gaining many years of experience and establishing a strong network, I would love to set up my own organisation. But who knows what the future holds for me? In any case, I wish to continue working in the field of trade and development as it holds the potential to fulfil me.

Are you a graduate of the MILE programme? Would you be interested in being interviewed for this regular feature? If so, please contact: morven.mclean@wti.org