Moving the U.S.-India Relationship from Aspirations to Action

By August 20, 2014Trade

In his recent Independence Day speech, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid out his vision for a future driven by innovation and aimed at improving the lives of all Indians. To achieve a “Digital India”, his government plans to build the infrastructure necessary to ensure all Indians have access to essential public services and information.

It’s a critical focus and surely an inspiring signal to his constituents and international partners. After all, innovation is essential for the growth of any nation in the 21st century. By embracing the potential of technology, the people of India can connect and unite like never before. From improving access to education and embracing the diverse benefits of telemedicine, to increasing the country’s electronic manufacturing capabilities, even those living in the far remote expanses of rural India could benefit.

The Obama Administration was quick to praise Modi’s approach and to highlight opportunities for collaboration.  In comments at the New York Foreign Press Center, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal expressed “a great deal of desire to look and see what we can do to create or stand up a infrastructure platform that would allow American companies to be able to focus their tools, their technologies, their capabilities around the priorities that have been identified by the Indian Government.”

Indeed, there is “a great deal of desire.” But translating Modi’s grand vision into reality will be difficult, and so far there’s been more talk than action. India continues to maintain discriminatory industrial policies that are blocking U.S. exports of the very information and communication technology products Modi will need to achieve a “Digital India.”  Widespread copyright piracy and weak protection of intellectual property rights in India are discouraging innovation and investment.

While other countries are opening their markets and undertaking the kinds of legal and economic reforms necessary to build and sustain a modern digital economy, India is falling further behind.  Between 2013 and 2014, India slipped ten places in the global innovation index  and now ranks a disappointing 76th in the world. According to the 2014 World Economic Forum’s Global Enabling Trade Report, India’s trading regime ranks 96th out of 132 countries in terms of enabling trade.

Modi’s government is still in its early days, and manufacturers remain hopeful that positive progress can be achieved and that a promising bilateral commercial relationship can get back on track. If India’s new leadership is serious about taking the actions necessary to achieve their vision, the NAM and American businesses stand ready to work with them.

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