The seventh meeting of the Indo-US high technology cooperation group (HTCG) was held mid-March in Washington, DC, and the Indian delegation was led by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. HTCG was conceived way back in 2001 in a joint statement by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former US president George W. Bush, and the first meeting took place in 2003. This edition of the meeting was significant as it was held after two years, and after new governments had taken office in both countries.
In a way, HTCG is evolving. Its first meeting covered the overall high-technology scenario in India and the financing of high-technology investments. In the second, in November 2004, India’s capabilities in high technology, information technology (IT), intellectual property and defence trade were taken up. The two countries also agreed to the next steps in strategic partnership (NSSP) in January 2004, which mandated expansion of cooperation in civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programmes and high-technology trade. NSSP was completed in 2005, and this expanded the scope of bilateral trade and cooperation in high-tech areas. Two rounds of HTCG meetings were held in 2005 to push the agenda further. The fifth edition in 2007 focused on making Indian companies eligible for the validated end-user programme, and by then a lot of high-tech trade between the US and India had already been taken out of the licensing regime. The 2008 HTCG considered defence and aerospace, biotechnology, life sciences and medical devices, and IT. Intellectual property protection was discussed, besides the various barriers in all the above areas.
This year, HTCG discussed defence, biotechnology and life sciences, nanotechnology, and civil aviation. Except for the civil aviation sector, which was on the agenda for the first time, in all the remaining areas, the progress made since the last meeting and the present irritants to take the relationship forward were debated. In a way, the meeting served as a great forum to restart the dialogue.
However, it would have been better to consider a few other areas, such as agriculture and cyber security, where both countries have a lot to deliberate upon. The US’ technological superiority in farming and irrigation methods is something India needs to pick up on so that the farming sector is given the right orientation for modernization. This will help in optimal utilization of resources at a time of changing soil conditions and climate. The Indian farming sector still runs on crude tools, and the irrigation sector is not delivering results.
Likewise, the cyber security sector needs a restart from where it was a few years ago. Indo-US cyber security cooperation was leading the way when an alleged incident involving three staffers of the National Security Council passing information to an American colleague stopped the whole cooperation. The US dominance in this area, which is completely technologically driven, is well known. In the effort to boost cyber security measures and give it a policy focus, attempts should be made to take advantage of American technology and customize it for specific sectors. Particularly for large-scale critical network protection, cyber forensics and training, India can gain a lot from the US. The recent revelation that Indian networks were targeted by Chinese hackers over the past year adds to the need for serious cyber security measures and cooperation.
The schedule for the next edition of HTCG has not been decided yet, but better focus could also be given to identify sectors where both nations can innovate. While trade will remain the focus of HTCG, it will be better served by some research cooperation to achieve common results. The wide pool of quality resources from Indian universities and institutes should thus be able to engage and cooperate with their peers in similar institutions in the US.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is country head in India for General Dynamics. These are his personal views. Comment at email@example.com