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Need to infuse new dynamism into stale India-France ties

The trade is inordinately dependent on the Indian government or companies placing large orders for high value items such as defence equipment or civil aircraft. In the absence of these large deals, trade suffers and remains stagnant.




Over the last seven decades, Indias relationship with France has been steady and stable, but perhaps a bit stale and out of energy — just like a long-married couple.

The election of Narendra Modi in 2014 as the Indian Prime Minister and the advent of Emmanuel Macron as the French President last year and the rapid economic reforms in both nations seem to have put a new energy in this relationship.

The two men have quite a few similarities. Both were elected to lead their respective nations with a surprisingly large majorities, demolishing the opposition parties, both used digital communication and social media networks to win the elections and continue to use them religiously even afterwards. They are also both seemingly in a big rush and have initiated a slew of economic reforms, including controversial ones and have so far managed to carry the day.

Both the leaders have also made their place on the global diplomatic platform and have infused a new dynamism in the international relations of their respective nations.

Image result for Macron modi

Thus when Prime Minister Modi and President Macron meet on Saturday in New Delhi, for the second time in less than nine months, there is widespread expectation they will infuse a new dynamism and energy in Indo-French ties.

It is a relationship that is multi-faceted, definitely time-tested and stable but in some aspects has also become stale. Over the decades, international affairs and geostrategic issues have become the bedrock of this relationship.

The bilateral relationship has received a big boost in the recent past due to the French prowess in certain domains that have become critical for India’s development. For instance, in the Smart City programme of the Indian government, which envisages development of 100 such cities, France is one of the key partners for India and can share a lot of knowhow, technology and processes to help this initiative. Currently, France has adopted three cities in India under this initiative.

France can also be a key partner in modernising and upgrading the creaking railway infrastructure across the country, improve the signaling and communications network as well as improve safety practices and standards and also help in introducing semi-high speed and high-speed railways in the country. The French national railway company, SNCF, is already conducting a feasibility study to upgrade the Delhi-Chandigarh route to a semi high-speed one.

The two countries are also collaborating in the shipping industry with French ports, notably Marseille entering into a ‘sister port’ agreement with Mumbai. French companies are also present in the large road construction projects in India. In waste management and water supplies, French industry leaders such as Veolia and Suez have been bagging contracts with Indian municipalities for some years now.

The list is seemingly endless. In the area of high technology, such as smart cards and avionics, as well as biotechnology, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and machine learning also there is a lot of scope.

Despite the very long list of potential business collaboration between the two nations, this is by far the weakest link in Indo-French ties and has been the case for decades. The trade has remained stubbornly stuck around 9 billion euros for close to a decade. Indo-German trade, by contrast, is close to 25 billion euros and India-UK around 27 billion euros. In fact, even though France is the third largest European economy, it ranks ninth in the terms of EU member nations’ trade with India, behind much smaller nations such as the Netherlands, Italy and even Belgium.

The trade is inordinately dependent on the Indian government or companies placing large orders for high value items such as defence equipment or civil aircraft. In the absence of these large deals, trade suffers and remains stagnant.

Even though there are nearly 300 French companies in India, an overwhelming share are the largest, with small and medium enterprises — the backbone of the French economy — almost entirely absent from the scene. This is in sharp contrast with Germany, whose SMEs have been fairly aggressive in India and are present in various domains. The story of Indian SMEs in France is no different. Besides exporters, mainly of commodities, some engineering products and textiles, the number of Indian SMEs engaged with France can be counted on the fingertips.

It is not for lack of trying, though. The French and Indian governments have long been trying to get SMEs to start exploring market opportunities. Way back in 2006, the then economy minister of France and the current head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde led over 500 French SMEs for a roadshow across various Indian cities. A number of other delegations of SMEs have been travelling to both the countries, but with very limited impact.

The biggest hurdle for the SMEs is that they lack market knowledge, adequate exposure and the financial muscle to explore new markets, especially ones reputed to be difficult — something shared by India and France. These factors make them highly risk averse.

To do some handholding and encourage French SMEs to start working with India, the Indian government has launched a concerted attempt — Access to India Initiative, which would identify relevant French SMEs, especially in manufacturing domain and assist them in all actions such as market research, creation of company, recruitment etc.

Such measures should encourage some French SMEs to take the plunge in India and if they succeed, it could lead others to follow.

A lot of expectations are riding on the Modi-Macron encounter and this visit has the potential to become the game changer in the bilateral relationship. However, overcoming the hurdles is far from easy and the two leaders would have to use all the tricks in their bags to make France and India natural business partners as well.

(Paris-based Ranvir S. Nayar is managing director of the Media India Group. He can be contacted at [email protected])


The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations




Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.



Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.




Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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