Modi 2.0 gets ready for digital, trade talks

Subimal Bhattacharjee | Updated on June 10, 2019 Published on June 10, 2019

Big Data Crucial talks ahead   -  /iStockphoto

The PM has put in place a sound ministerial team that will have to engage with global players on a host of tricky issues

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thumping electoral victory, the nation stands at the cusp of leaping forward in technological infusion. Modi 1.0 was a watershed government in the harmonious mix of both these traits, where a re-emphasis on age old strength of culture and economy was enhanced with modern technological enhancements.

One of the shining examples of such an ecosystem was the direct benefit transfer of social welfare schemes to the bank accounts of the poor enabled by the unique identity Aadhaar. It only only enhanced welfare, it also cleansed the system of the middlemen and delays and at the same time made a huge savings to the exchequer known for delivering to ghost and fictitious accounts for decades.

Clearly technology will be a major handle for Modi 2.0 once again and many of the issues emanating with the wider usage of technology have to be factored in right now. The fact that most of the wider technology reachout is enabled by US giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple also adds to its issues.

One major focus for the government in the early days will be to go to the backbone of some of the issues that will not only have a domestic angle but also wide global ramifications.

Privacy, monopoly, anti trust and data localisation will be the cornerstone for such arguments where a fine balance of looking at national, citizen and consumer interests with the aspirations of intermediaries mostly foreign dominating both social media and e-commerce will have to be arrived at.

This balance will never be static but evolve dynamically and so market and regulatory approaches will both have to be considered.

Hence engagements on these issues will be very pertinent and PM Modi has reflected his grasp of the situation in the cabinet allocation that he has done to those portfolios that have their pie in the emerging ecosystem.

In S Jaishankar as External Affairs Minister from being a top class diplomat, Ravi Shankar Prasad as Law, Communications & Electronics Minister once again and Piyush Goyal as Commerce and Industry Minister with his background, the encompassment is comprehensive.

Possibly the best one could have with complete coverage of the issues from legal, geopolitics and trade negotiations standpoints. Hardeep Puri as the MoS Commerce and Industry brings with him the rich experience of his wide career diplomatic assignments.

As the negotiations on the trade front with the US will begin, on a note where the GSP status was just withdrawn by them, the new government will see some deft engagements. At the core of such confabulations will be the data localisation issue which a few years back would have been inconsequential but today matters a lot.

Data localisation issue

As ‘Data is the new oil’, so the Indian ecosystem is also well informed of its capacity to be able to be in control of the data and content that are generated in the country. Ever since the draft Data Protection Bill 2018 was introduced in June 2018 and the draft E-commerce Bill put for public comments in February this year, there have been quite a bit of concern from various corners particularly the US technology corporations to the provisions for data localisation.

Since October 15 last year, the RBI has already got all system providers to implement and ensure that the entire data relating to payment systems operated by them are stored in a system only in India. Most of the entities have complied but some pain points remain.

Somewhere a middle ground has to be found on the issue and the two sides have to work on this. The American corporations have accepted the more stringent General Data Protection Regulation being implemented since April 2018 by the European Union.

The best precedent to follow is to pick up the two defence foundational agreements that both India and US have signed in the last five years in the defence sector.

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was a tweaked India-specific version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) that the two countries signed in August 2016 and then the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), a variation of the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreements (CISMOA) was signed in September 2018.

It all seemed impossible at the beginning, but later the US made all the changes in line with the Indian concerns.

Modi has put together a competent team to negotiate and the USTR and related entities are already waiting for the new government here to start talking.

The writer is the former country head of General Dynamics

Published on June 10, 2019
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