Key announcements for the tech sector during PM’s visit to India

On Thursday, the Prime Minister Johnson started a two - day visit to India to strengthen security, defense and economic cooperation between both countries. The visit also intends to drive progress in negotiations on the UK-India free trade agreement. Negotiating teams will hold their third round of formal talks in India next week.

Last year, the Prime Minister Johnson and Prime Minister Modi agreed a UK-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, announcing more than £530m in investment into the UK and committing to double bilateral trade by 2030. India was identified as a priority relationship for the UK in the 2021 Integrated Review and was invited by the UK as a guest to last year’s G7 in Carbis Bay.

Key announcements made during the visit:

  • Ambition to conclude a UK-India FTA by Diwali (Ocotber 2022).
  • A set of investment and export deals worth more than £1 billion.
  • Announcement on new science and tech collaboration, including a Digital Health partnership and a joint investment fund for Indian deep-tech and AI start-ups, supported by the UK and Indian governments.
  • New AI scholarships for Indian students jointly funded by the UK Government’s Chevening programme and India’s Adani Group.

Can we acheive a comprehensive digital trade agreement by October 2022?

India has taken a protectionist approach to international trade, regularly blocking deals in the World Trade Organization. New Delhi has a trade deal with Switzerland, but not the EU or US, and trade talks with Australia and New Zealand have generated an MoU but not a FTA.

Enabling cross-border data flows with adequate personal data protection frameworks is one of the key asks of the tech sector for any future FTA. It is one of the core principles of digital trade and can significantly facilitate business growth in digital and tech.

Jury is however still out on India’s data protection policy. India’s Data Protection Act (previously Personal Data Protection Bill-PDPB) has been discussed in Parliament since 2017. After multiple extensions, the Joint Parliamentary Committee tabled its report on the bill, and proposed various changes to the 2019 version – changing it to the ‘Data Protection Bill, 2021’. In March 2022, Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced that they are studying the JPC’s recommendations and that they aim to pass the data protection law by the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament (July/August 2022). 

The bill classifies four categories of data- personal data, sensitive personal data, critical personal data, and non-personal data. ‘Critical personal data’ must only be processed in India. ‘Sensitive personal data’ (SPD) may be transferred outside India but must remain stored in India. SPD can only be transferred outside India, under certain circumstances, such as under a contract or an intra-group scheme which is approved by the authoriity in consultation with the central government, or after an adequacy decision, or for emergency/public interest purposes.

 The government can compel entities to share non-personal data for ‘framing any policy on the digital economy’ and for better delivery of public services. The government could require businesses to share vital datasets under these provisions, if this extends to proprietary data sets, it could be a cause for concern for businesses.

It will be challenging to achieve a comprehensive FTA for our industry by the end of 2022 without having a full understanding of what the DPA entails and when it will be enforced.

Given that the UK and India both thrive on digital and other advanced technologies, and that there is such an important flow of skilled talent between both countries, there are real opportunities for both countries to partner to accelerate and solidify a world-leading role in developing and commercialising new technologies that can not only create commercial opportunities, but also solve societal challenges. techUK has been calling for a future UK-India FTA including strong provisions for cross-border data flows with an adequate data protection regime, increased mobility of talent and investment whilst also reducing barriers to business growth.

An FTA can establish frameworks for regulatory cooperation and harmonization of standards but is not the only vehicle to drive cooperation and trade in the fast-developing tech industry. Both governments need to explore other ways of working towards interoperability of regulatory regimes to drive the UK-India digital trade and tech partnership.