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India and tech policy at the G20 Summit

Class photo of world leaders at the G20 summit
G20 Leaders at Osaka, Japan. Source: @narendramodi/Twitter

While briefing the media at G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale stressed on the need to frame rules on data within the WTO and not at the G20. This is in direct opposition to Japan’s initiative of ‘Data Free Flow with Trust’ (DFFT) that Shinzo Abe proposed at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, and USA’s stance on cross-border data flow. In a significant move, India refused to sign the Osaka Declaration on Digital Economy.

India’s stance on cross-border data flow

Osaka Track seeks to promote cross-border data flows with enhanced protections and has been spearheaded by Japan’s Shinzo Abe. Apart from India, South Africa and Indonesia were also absent when G20 members formally signed the statement endorsing the concept after Abe’s announcement at the summit on June 28.

DFFT aims to eliminate restrictions on cross-border transfer of information by electronic means, including personal information, and storing data in foreign servers. This is in direct conflict with India’s draft e-commerce policy (read a summary here) that has proposed strict regulation on cross-border data flows, locating computational facilities within India to ensure job creation, and setting up a “data authority” for issues related to sharing of community data.

US President Donald Trump, during the G20 Leaders’ Special Event on the Digital Economy on June 28, endorsed the move and said, ‘the United State opposes data localisation and policies, which have been used to restrict digital trade flows and violate privacy and intellectual property protections’. He further said that the US looked forward to advance ‘an open, fair, and market-based digital economy that provides for the free flow of data’.

WTO or G20?

India aligned itself firmly with the BRICS nations which have argued that WTO should remain at the centre of the ‘rules based multilateral trading system’. The Joint Statement on BRICS Leaders’ Informal Meeting on the margins of the G20 summit reaffirms this stance:

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We are committed to transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade. Protectionism and unilateralism run counter to the spirit and rules of the WTO. We reaffirm our commitment to multilateralism and international law, and our full support to the rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its center. . . .  The reform must, inter alia, preserve the centrality, core values and fundamental principles of the WTO, and consider the interests of all members, including developing countries and LDCs. It is imperative that the WTO negotiation agenda be balanced and be discussed in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.
[emphasis ours]

The United States, on the other hand, doubled down against WTO. At a press conference, US President Donald Trump said, ‘Maybe the WTO was worse. The WTO, from the time that happened in ’95 — from the time that happened, China became like a rocket ship. It was pretty much flat-lined, and then, all of a sudden, they joined the WTO and they became — they went — I mean, they went through the roof.  And very much to our liability, it’s — we lost tremendous amounts of money over the — from that time. I mean, we just lost tremendous amounts. It was a terrible deal, the WTO — world trade.’

PM Modi discusses technology and trade with Trump

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in addition to meeting BRICS leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit, also held bilateral talks with US President Trump, and trilateral talks with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The bilateral conversation with Trump covered issues related to technology, defence, and trade, Modi’s tweet indicated. However, the exact nature of the conversation wasn’t revealed to the press.

On the eve of the meeting, Trump’s tweet criticised India for increasing tariffs on 28 American imported goods. Huawei, which was a hot button issue ahead of the bilateral meeting, did not feature in the post-meeting conference.

The trilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping where they focused on combating terrorism and climate change. He also held nine bilateral meetings with other G20 leaders. India laid significant focus on terrorism, infrastructure development, dealing with economic fugitives, improving taxation systems, and dealing with global inequality.

AI Principles

The G20 statement also released AI principles. The principles centre around inclusivity, sustainability, transparency, explainability, security and safety, and accountability of AI systems. The document called for national policies and international cooperation to develop trustworthy AI. This includes promoting research and development, fostering a digital ecosystem for AI, shaping malleable policy that makes it easier to implement AI systems, and building human capacity and preparing for labour market transformation.

Huawei is complicated: Trump

In a confusing turn of events, on the one hand Trump repeatedly told reporters that ‘Huawei is a complicated situation.  We agreed to leave that — we’re leaving Huawei toward the end.’. On the other hand, he also told reporters that American companies can sell their equipment to Huawei. He also hemmed and hawed when he was repeatedly asked if Huawei was going to be taken off the Entity List. When asked if he was taking Huawei off the Commerce Department entity list, Trump said, ‘We’re talking about that. We have a meeting on that tomorrow or Tuesday’.

***Update (5:20 pm): The headline of this article was updated.

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