Financial Express | 3 November 2021
India-UK FTA talks should champion digital trade
By Gouri Thounaojam & Meghna Misra-Elder
Associate directors, UK India Business Council
In a world reliant on digital connectivity and data, it critical that India plays a leading role in developing the international rules that will shape how we connect with friends and family and how international trade and investment will flow in the decades to come. Jobs creation and prosperity depend on digital and data trade.
The UK and India can play a pivotal role in shaping the global data and digital rules, and the imminent Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiation is an ideal opportunity to support core features of a thriving international digital environment: cross-border data transfers; personal information protection; mechanisms to promote interoperability among privacy law frameworks; transparent access to government information; and consumer protection and choice online. In terms of managing non-personal data, businesses would like to see an agreed approach that balances innovation, market forces, security and protects businesses proprietary data.
Key to an expansion of digital and data services trade are the data protection regimes in both countries, and they should be aligned with those of other major economies. The hope is that India’s Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill will become leading-edge legislation, balancing privacy and innovation, and that this will enable the UK and India to align regulations with each other and with economies like the EU, Japan and Brazil.
India’s non-personal data framework is also critical. Businesses from both countries that invest in the creation and collection of non-personal data are concerned that their investments will be undermined by being required to share that data—their asset—with third parties.
So, while protecting data is a fundamental, it is important too that non-personal and personal data can move across cross-borders to promote innovation and investment. The two governments should sign an India-UK Data Adequacy Agreement that facilitates the cross-border movement of personal data and/or anonymised data sets based on mutual adequacy.
Such an Agreement should incorporate provisions that protect the personal data and privacy of Indian and British citizens and guarantee the enforceability of those rights. In the absence of, or pending, an Agreement, other enforceable tools such as Binding Corporate Rules and model contract clauses to enable cross-border movement of personal data between the UK and India must be used.
AI is an area that India and the UK, working together, can be pioneers, utilising their existing strengths in data and digital tech, to lead the world. But, to stay at the forefront, it will be important to increase technical skills and engender a greater cultural acceptance of AI, which will involve educating citizens, businesses, and indeed governments, of the potential societal benefits.
Through the FTA, the two governments should jointly work towards establishing a consistent approach to ethical principles with trust built through the development of internationally agreed principles (Fairness, Accountability, Sustainability & Transparency). It is fair to say that India’s telecoms sector has not been in rude health. The recent reforms by the government of India has certainly reduced the risk of the market shrinking to a duopoly, for all that means for consumer choice.
So things are looking more promising than only a few weeks ago. This is critical as a robust digital infrastructure is key to digital transformation across sectors and across rural and urban areas and it underpins how efficiently and effectively digital trade grows. Therefore, supporting a vibrant telecom sector would support the pace of digitisation and help achieve India’s vision and ambition of becoming a trillion-dollar digital economy.
The UK trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, recently unveiled a new five-point plan for digital trade, during London Tech Week, stating that her department (the department for international trade) is committed towards facilitating more open digital markets; advocating for free and trusted cross-border data flows; championing consumer and business safeguards; promoting the development and adoption of innovative digital trading systems such as digital customs processes, e-contracting and paperless trading; and establishing global cooperation on digital trade.
This approach creates the foundation for an even stronger UK-India partnership. A partnership that can lead the world in digital, data and AI-driven services. The UK-India FTA can build on this foundation, turning aspiration into reality.