December 2016 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Pradnya Desh

Trading Places; Breaking the Mold

By Cynthia Flash


Pradnya Desh is a true woman of influence — locally, nationally and internationally. Over the past 17 years, Desh has impacted global and national trade and has helped local companies succeed in making their mark on the world.

From her office overlooking evergreen trees in suburban Bellevue, it may be difficult to imagine that Desh was once a CIA analyst. While she didn’t work as a spy, she spent years analyzing the economic forces at work in foreign countries to help high-level U.S. government officials (from Cabinet members to presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) understand how this economic data would impact the world. In this role, she helped explain and shape U.S. trade policy.

Then terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001. Based at CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Desh experienced the horror of those dark days in person. The day of the attack she and her team were evacuated out of the CIA for fear that the building could be a target. The next day she and her co-workers worked 24/7 monitoring the terrorist threat around the world, reporting and making recommendations to the director every few hours.

Their focus eventually shifted away from international trade to instead concentrate on the economy of Iraq. As Congress and President Bush debated whether to invade, Desh served on the team of CIA economic analysts who reviewed the economic impacts of such a decision.

Eventually, Desh tired of working on questions surrounding the war and saw an opportunity to change tacks. As a citizen of the world, Desh is able to communicate well in French, Marathi, Spanish and Russian, in addition to her native English. While attending law school at The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she took the challenging foreign service exam and became a U.S. State Department diplomat and member of the foreign service stationed in Washington, D.C., and in Geneva.

There she worked as a trade attaché, turning her attention from economic policy to trade regulations and negotiations. While in Geneva, Desh represented the United States’ efforts to influence U.S. and foreign trade policies, working with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in discussions with foreign government officials to help integrate developing countries into the world trading system.

She worked with Peter Allgeier, U.S. ambassador to the WTO, to revamp trade-related financial and technical assistance to the least developed countries. She also represented the U.S. in trade policy reviews, which are comprehensive reviews of each WTO member’s trade policies and compliance with WTO rules.

“Even more than the superior quality of her analytical and written work, I most appreciated Pradnya’s attitude,” Allgeier wrote. “She was unfailingly upbeat, even in the face of very demanding work requirements. She was totally reliable in meeting deadlines with high quality work while handling multiple tasks. She always had a ‘can do’ response to requests, even when a matter was new to her. She was universally liked and respected by her colleagues in the U.S. Mission and in the other WTO delegations. It was a joy to work with her.”

After four years with the State Department, Desh became pregnant with her third child. She told her husband that it was his turn to put his career first. He ended up with job offers at both Microsoft and Amazon. And with those offers in hand, the family moved to the Puget Sound region, somewhere neither Desh nor her husband had ever been before.

In a new place with three children at home, Desh decided it was time to get back to work. Rather than looking for work at a large established firm, she instead dove right into the private legal profession. She founded Desh International & Business Law in Bellevue in 2011 as a way to bring her international government and business experience to companies.

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