Inward-looking western countries offer India opportunity to lead the world

Inward-looking western countries offer India opportunity to lead the world

As many of the powerful countries of the western world talk about raising trade barriers, India needs to speak out more forcefully in favor of open economies and societies, says leading Indian businessman, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises. He was speaking at the recent World Economic Forum India Summit, which took place in Delhi in early October 2017.

“As the countries that created the international order after World War II increasingly look inward, we cannot afford a vacuum of leadership,” added Ajay S. Banga, president and chief executive officer of Mastercard. He said, “The most important task for India today is to create jobs.”

The new narrative, according to Sunil Bharti Mittal, comprises the three I’s of internationalization, innovation and inclusiveness. In climate change, for example, India has made commitments to the Paris accord far beyond the expectations of the international community. As powerful countries talk about raising trade barriers, India needs to speak out more forcefully in favour of open economies and societies, said Mittal, adding, “We are the most open global investment climate anywhere in the world.”

The key takeaways among the 650 participants from over 35 countries were:

  • As Western democracies look increasingly inward, India has the opportunity to lead on free trade, climate change and technology
  • India’s new narrative is about internationalization, innovation and inclusiveness
  • Technology must drive inclusive growth; entrepreneurship, empowerment of India’s youth, smart villages and shifting people into the formal economy are key

At the forum, leaders said that India’s growth has been instrumental in ensuring that South Asia is the fastest-growing region in the world. As the world economy undergoes a slowdown, it is critical that India continues on this trajectory to ensure regional and global growth. At the same time, the country should take a more active role in geostrategic affairs. As the largest democracy and with a pluralistic society, India’s active global engagement has a symbolic significance. For this to be Asia’s century, India’s role is crucial.

Domestically, India faces huge challenges in creating sufficient, worthwhile jobs for its burgeoning population. Technology and innovation are vital enablers in efforts to close the gap between rich and poor and ensure inclusive growth. Agriculture still employs upwards of 80 percent of India’s labor – most of it in the informal sector. Bringing these jobs into the formal sector is critical, through skills training, digitalization, entrepreneurship and boosting the participation of women in the economy, argued Banga.

Smart villages are one solution – self-sustainable through renewable energy, digitally connected and e-governed, said Dipali Goenka, chief executive officer and joint managing director of Welspun India, adding, “Growth needs to be brought to villagers, not villagers to the cities – that’s very important.” If women can be employed and empowered, then their children will study better and contribute more.”

“India’s millennials have a leading role to play in India’s new story. Better educated, better connected and more entrepreneurial than their parents, the millennial generation is embodying Mahatma Gandhi’s mantra to ‘be the change you want to see’,” said Malvika Iyer, member of the working group on youth and gender equality at the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development. India’s youth are passionate for change – for better governance and healthier free markets. “Millennials are solution-makers, not employees,” said Iyer. “They will create the most value for India.”

Even traditional industries, such as India’s railways, are embracing change. “Not less than 1 million jobs can be created in 12 months in railways alone,” said Piyush Goyal, minister of Railways and Coal of India.

Meanwhile, India is a world leader in renewable energy. In the past 27 months, India has sold 700 million LED bulbs without government subsidy, driving down power consumption by 11 percent and CO2 emissions by 80 million tonnes. This in turn will save the country $20 billion of investment in coal power plants in future – opening the way for renewable alternatives.

The India Economic Summit achieved the following outcomes:

  • The first-ever Open Forum India offered an unprecedented opportunity for the general public to participate in the summit. The session My India @2022 focused on the country’s demographic challenges. With two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion citizens under the age of 35, the session explored how the country can create a future to which young people can aspire.
  • The World Economic Forum’s High-Level Working Group on Infrastructure Financing in India held its second meeting at the India Economic Summit. Decision-makers from the government, businesses and investors discussed how to improve infrastructure in India, setting three priorities through 2018 – developing a model public private partnership (PPP) framework for infrastructure projects, creating an independent infrastructure PPP regulatory body, and selecting a pilot project to explore specific issues and challenges.
  • India is now one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world, with domestic demand reaching nearly 100 million passengers. Yet, annual international arrivals have remained relatively low, at 9 million. Against these findings, Indian policy-makers and industry experts are working towards welcoming over 15 million foreign tourists annually by 2025 and becoming the world’s largest aviation market by 2030. As part of this effort, the Forum launched the report Incredible India 2.0 – India’s $20 Billion Tourism Opportunity. It estimates that, with a growth in international arrivals to 20 million a year in India, the country’s tourism sector could incrementally grow by more than $19 billion and lead to the creation of up to 1 million additional jobs.
  • Nearly 100 leaders in India’s agriculture sector agreed to work on public-private partnerships that will contribute to Prime Minister Modi’s vision to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. The working meeting, co-hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare and the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture (NVA) initiative, included 12 state governments and three national ministries, Indian and global companies, technology innovators, farmer leaders, civil society groups and experts. The project will build on the experience to date in three states – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra – which have developed state-level platforms to drive agriculture value-chain partnerships with support from the NVA.

The World Economic Forum’s Primary Care Coalition (PCC) partners met at the India Economic Summit to validate a pilot project plan put forth in the Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh. Tata Consultancy Services, collaborating partners on the Primary Care Coalition, highlighted its digital nerve centre, an open platform allowing for integration of existing expertise and activities such as vaccines, diagnostics and check-ups. The platform and PCC efforts have earned support from local and national-level officials, including the office of the Minister of Health.

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