Trade Reform is the Path to a “Digital India”

When India elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the country’s next leader, the world took notice. Throughout his campaign, Prime Minister Modi outlined an agenda aimed at transforming India into a global economic leader. In a speech marking India’s Independence Day, Modi set out a list of economic priorities.

Among them, Modi called for a “Digital India” and a move towards e-governance. According to Modi, this move will have a two-fold benefit of increasing access to government services for India’s poor and improving India’s economy through the manufacture of electronic goods.

As vision statements go, this one was new and welcome; however, it is necessary for India to re-evaluate its trade policies that are currently and will continue to be a barrier to the successful implementation of such a broad change.  A trade environment that strengthens intellectual property (IP) protection and opens India’s market to overseas products and investment will be essential to achieving a “Digital India.”

Studies show India’s existing forced localization barriers not only harm the global economy, but hinder the ability of India’s businesses and people to access the latest technological developments coming from other countries.

Additionally, India has a long history of ignoring basic IP protections. In fact, the United States has placed India on the Priority Watch List in its annual review of foreign IP protections for 25 years. According to a Center for Strategic International Studies paper, India is dis-incentivizing the creativity and ingenuity of its own people through weak protection of ideas and innovations.

If Modi is serious about a “Digital India,” his government must take action to end ruinous forced localization barriers and strengthen IP protection and enforcement. As Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal outlined during a recent forum titled, U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities in India, “I think that for India to be able to attract the kind of investment and the kind of cutting-edge modern technology it needs to address certain issues that inhibit that. We are ready and stand ready to partner with India and to facilitate as much collaboration as we can.”

We couldn’t agree more.