Sanjay Notani is a partner at Economic Laws Practice (ELP), India. He provides trade advice and litigates on issues concerning trade remedial and FTAs/RTAs, including WTO disputes for various corporates and governments. He also advises and strategises on issues of NTB, SPS TBT, market access, export control and sanctions. Sanjay has been recommended for his expertise in Chambers Asia-Pacific, Chambers Global, The Legal 500, WWL: Trade & Customs, WorldECR and the BRIC Expert Guide. He continues to be associated with ABA and IPBA committees.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
The idea of being able to advocate for the interests of another, and intellectually stimulating thinking on various issues affecting regulation and society, inspired me to pursue a career in law.
What do you enjoy most about working in trade and customs law?
Several challenges confront trade and customs practitioners globally, including India. These include adapting to fast-changing regulatory landscapes, dealing with business disruptions and assessing of political deliverables. To be able to apply these to settled legal principles before domestic and international regulators and courts, as well as the WTO, is something that I find very challenging and also enjoy about working in trade and customs law. Also, regulations needs to catch up with the world of data and forms of technologies (eg, big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain) and issues (privacy, cybersecurity, data localisation, sanctions, e-commerce) thereof. With increasing domestic regulations, creating data barriers on transfer of data until multilateral principles are accepted will require trade lawyers to work with corporates and governments to balance the interest of all.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?
The trade remedies and trade-restrictive measures in the form of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade remain much debated and are a matter of serious concern as they have grown manifold, affecting various sectors and in turn, global trade. In particular, India and the USA have been considered to be at the forefront of initiating trade remedy investigations.
Apart from the opportunities on data-related issues highlighted above, the evolving regulations on transfer of capital by sanctioned countries, the blocking of investments on critical infrastructure, restrictions on transfer of high-tech technologies and IP issues are clearly some of the evolving and challenging areas.
How does Economic Laws practice stand out from its competitors in the market?
Economic Laws Practice has been at the forefront of international trade law and policy in India, as its endeavour has always been to understand and imbibe clients’ business interests and, accordingly, provide high-quality, result-oriented legal solutions. Due to our working relationship with various law firms globally, imbibing the best practices, and learning to adapt and develop efficient and solution-driven results makes us different from our competitors. Constantly developing simple and logical methodologies to resolving complex issues with a definitive time and value proposition makes it a fun and challenging place for our professionals to aim being thought leaders.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is currently being negotiated by the Indian government. What effects do you think the outcome might have on the market?
India’s existing FTA agreements with South Korea, Japan and the Association of South East Asian Nations have seen trade imbalance and trade deficit for the former.
Various stakeholders have also opined that the RCEP will have an impact on sectors such as steel, pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, food processing, agriculture, intellectual property and food security.
However, experts have argued that the RCEP would also have its own benefits. To name a few, RCEP may replace the current competing FTA/RTA, giving rise to simplified trade rules and stronger production bases in RCEP area. A consensus among RCEP members on adopting common rules of origins can make movement of goods easier and predictable across the member countries. The interdependence on supply chain models will gain strength as also export of services (four modes of supply in various service related sectors) will make it beneficial for India to maximise the potential it has been focusing on.
Companies are increasingly using in-house legal teams for a greater proportion of their legal work. What threat does this pose to law firms and how are firms adapting?
International trade law is a very specialised practise area. Even if companies are increasingly using in-house legal teams for a greater proportion of their legal work, it may not be a threat to law firms specialising in international trade law considering the in-depth practical, business and specialist legal experience a trade practitioner may have to offer. Since trade lawyers under business of the client in detail, we contribute back to the companies with its experience on working of complex issues such as market access, supply chain, sanctions and data related work.
You have enjoyed a distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
Like I said, no two cases are the same. Every case that I have worked on so far, has been very different in terms of the challenges that I was posed with and my focus has always been towards achieving solutions head-on to every such challenge. I would like to say that I see every case that I have worked on as an accomplishment and also the pleasure of evolving best practices with young team members.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in trade and customs law?
We deal with issues that are governed by international regulations. This often requires us to balance domestic and bilateral concerns to arrive at advice that is acceptable to all. For this reason, trade and customs lawyers must constantly remain mindful of updates on issues of law, business, economics and politics, which is evolving and never static.
Sanjay Notani receives widespread plaudits from sources for his expert handling of trade agreement disputes and anti-dumping and countervailing proceedings.
Sanjay Notani is a partner at ELP and co-heads the international trade and customs practice. He is a member of the Supreme Court Bar of India (SCBA), the Maharashtra and Goa Bar Council, and the American Bar Association (ABA). He also has the distinction of being appointed to ABA’s steering group of the export controls and economic sanctions committee, representing Asia. Sanjay is also a member of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) and the Customs and International Trade Bar Association (CITBA), and represents various committees.
His advisory work includes appellate litigation to obtain trade remedial reliefs from unfairly traded imports in anti-dumping; countervailing and safeguard duty proceedings (trade remedial actions) pertaining to inbound and outbound levy of duties; and disputes arising from free trade agreements (FTAs)/regional trade agreements (RTAs), including disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO) representing India.
Sanjay also provides trade advice on various FTAs/RTAs being negotiated and signed by India. The scope includes analysis of all the matters that constitute an import or export declaration including valuation; classification; country of origin; marking and labelling; qualification for the relevant free trade programme/agreement; and free trade zone issues.
He assists clients in responding to customs notices; conducting internal compliance reviews; pursuing customs rulings; and advising on topics such as regulatory barriers. He has advised businesses and industry associations on a wide array of issues related to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and non-tariff barriers with a predominant focus on market access challenges to agribusiness, labelling requirements and technical regulations. Sanjay implemented and led a research project on monitoring of SPS measures that are likely to be incompatible with WTO law. Sanjay also represents companies and advises governments on the standards imposed on products, including steel, chemicals, medical devices and certain IT products, by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
Sanjay has in-depth experience advising various multinational companies on import and export control as well as licensing issues, specifically the dual use of goods and technologies regulations (export control regulations) maintained by the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of External Affairs and other allied ministries.
He also has regulatory and advocacy experience in India’s emerging legal landscape in the evolving technologies space and advises clients on issues concerning privacy, e-commerce, data localisation and digital tax.
Sanjay provides strategic legal and commercial advice to corporates, trade bodies and governments on the inherent challenges in doing business globally, including the strategies to be adopted by global value chains (GVC).
Sanjay has been recommended for his expertise in Chambers Asia-Pacific (2013 to 2019), Chambers Global (2015 to 2019) and The Legal 500 (2015 to 2019). He is recognised as a “leading expert” by Who’s Who Legal: Trade & Customs (2015 to 2019). He was recognised at the 2016 WorldECR Awards for his export controls and sanctions expertise (the awards were featured in the June 2016 issue of WorldECR magazine). He is featured in WWL Thought Leaders – Trade & Customs (2017 to 2019).