BUSINESS

Swedish ICT sector wouldn’t have been so successful without Indian help

Swedish Minister for Enterprise & Innovation, Mikael Damberg, who was in Delhi to participate in the first meeting of the India-Sweden Business Leaders' Round Table on November 9, spoke on his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also dwelt on issues including the possible impact that Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. Presidential polls will have on world trade.

On India’s concerns regarding restrictions in the developed world on movement of foreign skilled workers for short-duration work, Damberg said the Swedish Information & Communications Technology (ICT) sector would not have been so successful on a global scale without the competence from India. “So, for us, trade in a modern globalised economy is not only about goods but also about services, sharing of knowledge, easier movement of people and migration,” he said. (Edited excerpts)

What did you discuss with Mr. Modi?

We informed the PM how Swedish innovation can help India in meeting the challenges that it is facing. We see big business opportunities in the Indian government’s initiatives such as Make In India, Digital India, Skill India, Clean India and Smart Cities. The participation of Swedish companies in these initiatives will help India and Sweden to be more successful.

What impact do you think the victory of Donald Trump in the US Presidential elections, will have on global trade?

The U.S. is an important country for Sweden when it comes to job creation and investment. So we will continue to work closely with the U.S. But we are worried about trade as the statements made during the U.S. Presidential campaign had a protectionist tone, and it might have a spill-over effect if it influences the rest of the world. The world won’t be a better place if we stop trading with each other. We will all be poorer if that were to happen. History has shown that the poorest countries suffer the most if they cannot trade with other countries as well. Such a scenario wouldn't help in creating growth and new jobs for the big population of India. So protectionism is an issue that could impact the future of global trade. Also, time will tell what kind of effect it (protectionist proposals) will have on the U.S.

Do you feel the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, a proposed free trade agreement between the US and European Union) has any future now?

I am worried about the future of TTIP, since he (Trump) had criticised the TTIP along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We see TTIP as an agreement that will benefit the U.S. and the European Union and therefore, taking the TTIP negotiations forward has been a top priority for Sweden. We have to see what the Trump administration will push for ultimately, because the Republican Party in the US traditionally has been in favour of free trade.

What are the initiatives being planned by Sweden to promote global trade?

Sweden is a strong proponent of free trade. We can have an influence in the EU and on the global trading system. Since we are active at the WTO-level, we feel the best trade instruments are multilateral, and big regional trade deals are the second best. It is not a coincidence that the European Commission Trade Commissioner (Cecilia Malmstrom) is from Sweden. It says something about our track record and our competence in this area. Sweden is a relatively small country with less than 10 million people. So for us it is never sufficient to have only our own home market for development. Sweden is ranked sixth in the world in ‘competitiveness’ and second in ‘innovation’. We wouldn't have reached this position without meeting fierce international competition. We are so successful because we have always been open to competition. So we not only want to export more to countries like India, but also find local partnerships in India to grow here and to be here in the long term. That is our strategy to be truly global.

But India has raised concerns on curbs in the developed world on movement of foreign skilled workers for short-duration work. How do you think Sweden will address this bilaterally and in the negotiations on the proposed India-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA)?

We are supportive of the FTA and hope the talks can be expedited as we think the agreement will benefit Europe and India. Movement of people is an important factor in the equation. For example, take the Swedish ICT sector. We wouldn't have been so successful on a global scale without the competence from India. We had many Indians coming to work in the Swedish ICT sector, and the strong bond we have with India in the ICT sector will continue to grow. India is becoming an ICT superpower and though we are a much smaller country, we are ahead in this aspect and a global player in the forefront. So teaming up with India is really exciting for us. For us, trade in a modern globalised economy is not only about goods but also about services, sharing of knowledge, easier movement of people and migration.

Can you elaborate upon Sweden’s plans regarding participating in India’s ‘Smart Cities’ initiative?

We have a unique competence in building smart cities. We are among the countries that have increased the GDP quite rapidly while simultaneously reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We have already done what many countries are now trying to do – generate growth and jobs through policies that support sustainable development. Big Swedish cities are unique in their environmental profile. We have smart cities that have better connectivity, examples of converting waste to energy and creating good transportation systems. We have companies specialising in all these aspects, creating local jobs and helping cities to solve their transportation problems. We have a joint working group with India to work on these issues and it is a priority area where we can really make a difference.

What are your thoughts on the Indian government’s move to demonetise high-value currency notes? Is that the best way to tackle corruption and black money?

This is a bold decision that shows the government’s commitment to fight corruption and cleanse the economy. But I don’t think there is only one solution (demonetisation). You need to consider several innovative solutions by looking at how the economy works and what is the best way forward. In this regard, what the government has done on ensuring the opening of bank accounts through its financial inclusion programme was also a very fast move to take forward the economic system. This will make the next step even easier. You can use bank account as a tool for innovation that can even help the world. We have, for instance, a Swedish ICT company Truecaller that is successful in India and around the world. It used India as their spring board to the global market.

So you have to look at such innovations that actually use the special conditions in India to build a business model that actually innovate the way people communicate and do transactions and make them secure.

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