For a government keen to reach out to the world, trade engagements are crucial. And there lies the critical role of India's Commerce Ministry. When Rita Teaotia, a Gujarat-cadre IAS officer of 1981 batch, took charge as Commerce Secretary on July 1, 2015, there were multiple challenges facing India's external trade sector. Exports were on the decline, a series of bilateral and multilateral trade engagements were in various phases of negotiation, and an all-important ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was to take place by the year-end. The dexterity with which Teaotia helped Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman steer India successfully through this crucial phase is noteworthy. One of her senior colleagues, who did not wish to be named, said bureaucrats like her are often behind the 'collective efforts' of a government. But, "while there is continuity in the manner in which bureaucracy functions, and officers build on the work done by their predecessors, they also leave individual footprints, which in some cases are quite remarkable. Teaotia's is one such case". In the past one year, Teaotia has not only guided the ministerial team through a successful WTO negotiation (India's insistence led to a ministerial declaration that expressed the diverging views within WTO members on the global trade body's development agenda), but also facilitated several successful interactions including the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. From pushing for an international debate on facilitating services trade, to supporting exporters through policy suggestions, Teaotia has been Sitharaman's trusted aide. She had also served in the central ministries of IT and Health in the past.
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