A stadium packed with members of the Indian diaspora and billions of lives touched with its subtle diplomacy, the visuals of ‘Howdy, Modi?’ are here to stay. It marks a moment in the history of relations shared between the oldest and the largest democracies of the world. There is anticipation in the air, with hints of a likely trade deal and a strategic energy partnership that will lay the foundation of growth and progress at the turn of the decade. The jury still waits to see whether these visuals will translate into stronger socio-economic collaboration and critical partnerships.
Deep beneath the obvious camaraderie between India and the U.S., lies the need to tackle few burning issues, before getting into the next phase of collaboration. Matters related to digital trade, data, and addressing the global skill gap will have to be dealt with urgency as both nations set their eyes on becoming ‘global partners of the 21st century’.
For the U.S., mending all bilateral ties with India is an extension of the Quadrilateral (Quad) framework involving the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, to be a formidable force in this multi-polar world. For India, it is the most obvious route to fortify its digital dreams and power its run to become a $5 trillion economy over the next few years.
Data – the new oil, new gold
In the context of digital trade, issues around data protection and localisation are a matter of global concern. Both the U.S. and India understand the power of data. The U.S. has been advocating open data regime in their economic interest, and India too has clearly articulated the power of data. The prime minister in his recent U.S. visit has equated data to the new gold. While the U.S. and India may have divergent views on data policy framework, the need to collaborate and be partners in the data economy is well understood.
India can become a significant stakeholder in shaping a data-centric economy. It has become data-rich before it has become economically-rich , thanks to increase in Internet and mobile penetration, Digital India initiative, and low data tariffs. With a population of approximately 1.3 billion, and more than 500 million Internet users, India is one of the leading data consumption economies in the world and is likely to be the most sought after data mines in the near future.
We are about to witness many ‘firsts’ in the data economy – that will contour new trade, digital, trade agreements, new frameworks and alliances globally. New regulations will take shape. The dust needs to settle, and the imperative is upon us as business leaders to collaborate through our existing ecosystem to make it a data-empowered and secured world. The case for ‘cross border data flow with trust’ has never been stronger.
Technology trump card
The digital age provides ample technology based business opportunities for both the nations, but it calls for increased collaboration between both the countries on new technology frontiers including 5G, and cyber security, defence and space. Both nations need to evaluate how they can leverage their technological capabilities and skills for mutual benefit. Technology transfer and innovation at scale is key to solving critical problems of the world, and there cannot be a more formidable partnership than the U.S. and India as role models in this space.
Co-nurturing the global talent pool
In the current environment, the ‘ease to do business’ and ‘cost of doing business’ is a challenge. It is important to view new age high-skilled worker mobility as a trade enabler rather than a pure immigration issue. It is important to recognise the significant contribution and investments by the Indian IT industry to the U.S. in form of jobs, GDP (Gross Domestic Product), diversity, and knowledge-exchange. With a burgeoning working youth population (more than 600 million people less than 25 years of age), India can prove to be a vibrant land of opportunities, a high consumption marketplace and a reliable partner to the U.S. when it comes to accessing a talent pool with new-age skills.
Both parties need to recognise and work towards a collaborative model to address the pressing issue of education skill gaps in areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the U.S. and the critical role played by the global talent pool to bridge that gap. The industry focus on STEM to STEAM is equally important (where ‘A’ stands for ‘arts’) in terms of design thinking, soft skills and collaborative approach.
There is a need to focus on technology-intensive digital trade and intellectual property rights that will help fuel our collective vision of building a resilient and sustainable global digital economy.
The road ahead: Time to explore new frontiers of Indo-U.S. ties
The U.S.-India strategic partnership has strengthened significantly in the past two decades, based on the convergence of strategic interests. Both countries need to now deepen this relationship. The two nations can contribute to build a more peaceful, stable, secure, sustainable, and prosperous world by exploring collaboration across education, science, research, innovation, climate change, safety and security.
Amid geo-political insecurities and headwinds, it is in the interest of both India and the U.S. to iron out their bilateral issues and identify ways to increase synergies across new sectors. There is a lot at stake for both nations. We cannot just afford to lose the hard-earned bilateral advantage and the huge potential that lies ahead. Time is of essence, and speed will be the defining competitive edge of Indo-U.S. partnership.
Views are personal.
The author is MD & CEO, Tech Mahindra.