Suhail Nathani practises in the areas of trade and customs, regulatory, competition and corporate laws. He has represented various regulators in the Indian courts, including the Competition Commission of India and the Securities Exchange Board of India, and has also represented the Indian government at the WTO. He routinely advises listed companies on regulatory and corporate matters and all aspects concerning the movement of goods across borders. He has been involved in some of the most contentious competition matters in the country. He obtained his MA in Law at Cambridge University and an LLM at Duke University. He is admitted to practise in India and in the US (New York). He also serves on the board of listed companies and several not-for-profit organisations.
What attracted you to a career in trade and customs law?
After spending nearly eight years in the USA, I returned to India hoping to practise telecom regulatory law. Unfortunately, during the early years, the challenges were more constitutional. Luckily for me, India had recently enacted new trade laws in its national code and I was in the right place at the right time. I did one of the earliest anti-dumping cases in India and found the work absolutely engaging. I was hooked, as law and economics had always been a passion for me.
How has your role changed since you started practising?
As one of the founders of my firm, my role evolved over the years. I went on to incubate new practices in the firm, and nearly two years ago assumed the role of managing partner of the firm.
What do clients look for in an effective trade and customs lawyer?
Clients need clarity in the advice you give. Stakes are high and once goods reach a border, any ambiguity causes huge disruption. My constant endeavour is to provide practical solutions to business within the framework of the law.
Looking back over your career, what has been the most interesting case you have been a part of?
Without any doubt the two cases we had the opportunity to represent our government at the WTO. One involved the Indian duties on wines and spirits, and the other is still ongoing: the US solar subsidies.
India has traditionally been known as an importer. However, the export of goods and services is increasing. What challenges do you think the country faces as a result of this shift?
In services, India has been an active player for a while. Challenges remain in the movement of persons. Goods is a bigger challenge, as Indian industry has traditionally looked to the government to provide incentives to offset the domestic inefficiencies, especially in the indirect tax stream as India had a plethora of cascading taxes. That has changed with the advent of GST in India; and India will gradually emerge as a strong exporter of goods. The trade war between China and the USA, as well as the “made in India” push by the Indian government will benefit Indian exporters.
India has seen a profusion of new and amended legislation. How do you think this will affect the legal market?
In the short term, these provide tremendous opportunities for lawyers, as the transition is often more painful than it perhaps needs to be. Once the transition period is through, the work will reduce and Indian lawyers will need to continuously evolve to meet the needs of their clients in a rapidly changing environment. Add to this the growing dominance of in-house legal teams, and lawyers in India will seriously need to up their game.
Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
The creation of ELP – for which, of course, many must share the credit. I feel particularly proud when our younger talent emerge as leaders in their own right and do ELP proud. We set out to create an inter-generational firm, and that is a validation of our efforts.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The law is an ocean – you are never done learning.
Suhail Nathani is a key figure in the Indian trade market where he enjoys a stellar reputation for his work handling trade remedies and anti-dumping matters.
Suhail Nathani is the managing partner of ELP and heads the international trade and customs, and competition law and policy groups. He additionally co-heads the capital markets and securities laws, corporate and commercial, and private equity and venture capital practices of the firm. He is an alumnus of Cambridge University, England, and has also received an LLM from Duke University, USA. He is admitted to practise in India and the State Bar of New York.
With over 25 years of experience, Suhail has been involved in advising and representing several clients on trade remedial measures. He has appeared before the anti-dumping and safeguard authorities, the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. He has to his credit favourable results in some of the most contentious and high-profile cases in the country. He was also the lead counsel to the government of India at the World Trade Organization panel and appellate body in Geneva, and he handled the first safeguard case in India. He has also advised Indian clients in trade disputes internationally – most recently in the US, Brazil and Australia.
On the trade advisory front, Suhail has advised on aspects of GATT, GATS and free trade agreements, including rules of origin, non-tariff barriers, trade remedial measures and market access. He has been widely published and is a frequent speaker at various conferences. He co-authored a chapter in WTO at 10, a compilation of articles on the first 10 years of the WTO, published by the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies.
Suhail has been recognised among the top 30 international trade practitioners in the world by the Best of the Best Expert Guides (2016). He has been ranked by Chambers Asia-Pacific (2012–2019) for his expertise in competition/antitrust, corporate M&A and international trade; recommended as a “leading lawyer” by The Legal 500 Asia-Pacific for the past 10 years; and recognised for his expertise by Who’s Who Legal (2013–2019). He has been named by Asialaw Leading Lawyers as “distinguished practitioner” (2020) and a “leading lawyer” (2014–2019). He has also featured as a “market leading lawyer” in IFLR1000 (financial and corporate, 2015–2019). He has been on the jury for the 2016 BW Businessworld/PwC Best Bank Awards. He has featured in the India Business Law Journal’s “A List” of India’s top 100 lawyers (2017–2019). He has been appointed as a member of IBA’s India contact group and was also a part of the host committee organising the fifth Asia Pacific Regional Forum Biennial Conference for the IBA Asia Pacific Regional Forum.