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Editorial Articles


Issue no 24, 09-15 September 2023

G20 Harnessing Digital Public Infrastructure for Industrial Growth, Trade & Employment

Bhupendra Singh

In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, data has emerged as a powerful driving force behind innovation, growth, and employment generation. The G20 member countries have recognised the potential of harnessing data through Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to fuel industries, promote trade, and create job opportunities. Under India’s G20 presidency, the concept of DPI has gained prominence as a means to establish shared digital systems that offer secure, interoperable, and equitable access to public and private services.

DPI, in essence, represents a set of interconnected digital systems built on open standards and governed by legal frameworks. These systems are designed to provide easy and inclusive access to a range of services, driving development, innovation, and competition while ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The diverse approaches of G20 members to digital transformation acknowledge the evolving nature of DPI, which can be tailored to specific country contexts and terminologies. Nevertheless, the Digital Economy Ministers’ Meeting held in Bengaluru in August this year adopted the “G20 Framework for Systems of Digital Public Infrastructure” that provides a suggested roadmap for building robust, inclusive, humanistic and sustainable DPI. This framework promotes flexibility and technology choice, while also underscoring the importance of privacy and data protection.

Digital identity, digital payment systems, and data-sharing mechanisms are essetial components of DPI with domestic purposes. Having pioneered advancements in this realm with a range of DPI initiatives, such as Aadhaar, UPI, and account aggregators, India has sought to exhibit the “India Stack” model through its G20 presidency. These foundational layers of India Stack have revolutionised sectors like health, agriculture, manufacturing, and education, thereby creating a ripple effect of industry growth and subsequent employment opportunities. The modular structure of the India Stack introduces avenues for innovation, inclusiveness, and healthy competition within the digital landscape which many developing economies have sought to replicate. Furthermore, collaboration, openness, and knowledge sharing will be key in unlocking the full potential of DPI for the benefit of all. Hence, India has proposed setting up of a Global Digital Public Infrastructure Repository (GDPIR) to bridge the gap in knowledge sharing on DPI. This virtual repository will serve as a hub for G20 members and beyond to share experiences, practices, tools, and resources related to DPI development and deployment. By pooling insights and best practices, the GDPIR can facilitate accelerated adoption and implementation of DPI across the globe.

DPI Empowering Industry, Trade and Workforce

An industrialised economy operates on two foundational elements: industry and workforce. Industry serves as a catalyst for innovation, creates jobs, and propels economic advancement. Meanwhile, the workforce plays a crucial role by powering productive endeavors, essentially upholding the operational framework of industries. In today's era, where technology underpins industries and most jobs are technology oriented, the importance of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) has increased. DPIs act as links between industries and the labor force, establishing a symbiotic environment that nurtures growth for both sectors.

For businesses, DPIs provide a transformative platform for digitalisation, enabling streamlined operations, datadriven decision-making, and enhanced customer engagement. Through interoperable and scalable digital systems, businesses can tap into new markets, optimise supply chains, and innovate products and services, ultimately leading to increased efficiency and profitability.

Additionally, DPIs play a role in enhancing labor standards, ensuring worker safety, and promoting social dialogue, as evident from the L20 (Labour 20) and B20 (Business 20) joint statement. The digital platforms provided by DPIs enable transparent communication between businesses, labor unions, and governments, fostering an environment of trust and cooperation. This collaboration results in policies that prioritise worker rights, fair wages, and conducive work conditions, aligning with the principles of holistic development and social cohesion.

One of the cornerstones of India's G20 Presidency has been its focus on expanding economic ties among nations by promoting trade in local currencies. This significant shift from the traditional practice of conducting trade solely in US Dollar not only promotes bilateral economic engagement but also helps in reducing dependence on foreign currencies, thereby enhancing financial sovereignty. It is within this context that India's efforts to promote trade in local currencies while pushing for integration of digital financial systems became integral strategies of fostering economic collaboration between nations.

The Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri V Muraleedharan said, India has so far entered into agreements almost with 20 countries to trade in local currencies and has also been focusing on integrating digital financial platforms. This aligns with the principles of the G20's Digital Public Infrastructure Framework, which emphasises technology, interoperability, and transparent governance.

“There was a period when we used to do our entire trade in dollars. Now that situation is over. Now Indian currency is valued very much by many countries so we make payments in Indian Rupee from our side and accept payments in local currencies of other countries. At the same time, we are in the process of linking our digital financial platforms, including our Unified Payments Interface (UPI), with various counterparts in different nations. This integration streamlines transactions, reducing delays and technical complications that typically arise when transferring funds. This dual approach, encompassing local currency trade and digital platform integration, works together in synergy. The combination is poised to enhance bilateral trade and bolster India's exports. In the preceding year, we achieved our goal of reaching 400 billion dollars in exports, and I am confident that these efforts will drive us even further ahead in this domain.”

As equitable development and digitalisation are core principles of the G20, these efforts underscore India's commitment to fostering a collaborative and inclusive global economic landscape. Through the extensive utilisation of DPIs, coupled with the promotion of trade in local currencies and the implementation of UPI, India has sought to exemplify to the developing world how technologydriven initiatives can catalyse economic growth while ensuring that the benefits are accessible to a broader spectrum of stakeholders, both domestically and internationally.

Similarly, for the workforce, DPIs provide a foundation upon which governments, businesses, and educational institutions can collaborate to develop targeted up-skilling and re-skilling programs. The G20 Group, recognising the importance of this paradigm shift, has introduced strategies like the "G20 Toolkit for Designing and Introducing Digital Upskilling and Re-skilling Programs." This initiative seeks to equip individuals with the digital skills needed to navigate the evolving job landscape, ensuring sustained employability and career growth in the digital age. Digital infrastructure that facilitates remote work or virtual collaboration platforms allows businesses to tap into a diverse talent pool and provides workers with flexible employment opportunities. This collaborative approach contributes to the overall well-being of workers while enhancing business productivity.

Workforce-rich countries like India stand to gain significantly from the convergence of DPI and workforce development. The infusion of digital skills empowers individuals to access new avenues of employment, effectively contributing to the increase in both employment rates and the overall employability of the labor force. Moreover, the digital transformation of the workforce enhances a country’s appeal to international investors.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri V Muraleedharan, highlighted that India's progress in DPI underscores the nation's technological advancement and infrastructure. The burgeoning skilled workforce, predicted to become the world's skill capital, positions India as an attractive destination for foreign investment. Moreover, with the elimination of outdated laws and compliance burdens, India presents itself as a fertile ground for investors seeking a talented and dynamic workforce.

He stated, “the G20 presidency has provided an opportunity for the global community to witness India's remarkable progress, evidenced by its infrastructure and technological advancements. Those seeking investment destinations will recognise India's abundant skilled workforce, the largest in the world. Experts observing India's growth predict it will become the world's skill capital. Given this, international investors are likely to conclude that India offers skilled manpower coupled with favorable infrastructure. Moreover, recent positive developments such as the elimination of outdated laws and penalties for minor offenses, as well as reduced compliance burdens collectively position India as an appealing and attractive location for foreign investment. This influx of investment is expected to create job opportunities, improve the quality of life for the average Indian citizen, and yield positive outcomes for the nation's populace.”

The G20 Group, under the stewardship of India's G20 Presidency, has devised a set of overarching principles that lay out a comprehensive roadmap for the digital evolution of international trade. These principles guide nations toward a smart transition into a more streamlined and accessible global trade ecosystem, powered by cutting-edge digital technologies. Central to these principles is the concept of neutrality, which accentuates that endeavors aimed at digitalising trade documents should abstain from favoring any particular technology, software, or system. This neutral stance ensures a level playing field for all stakeholders, fostering innovation, competition as well as collaboration. The set of principles was formulated during the recently concluded G20 Trade and Investment Ministers' meeting. This strategic move arises from the prevailing state of global trade, where conventional reliance on paper-oriented documentation processes still prevails in most jurisdictions. These outmoded practices not only consume excessive time and labor but are also predisposed to errors and inefficiencies.

This paradigm shift toward digitalised exchanges holds the promise of delivering substantial enhancements in productivity and operational efficiency for both enterprises and governments. Additionally, it aims to alleviate the formidable hurdles that Micro, Small, and Mediumsized Enterprises (MSMEs) encounter in the realm of global trade. This, in turn, is anticipated to contribute to increased GDP growth rates and the fortification of supply chain resilience on a global scale. Furthermore, a pivotal pillar of these principles revolves around the implementation of robust encryption and other state-of-the-art security protocols within the digital public infrastructure to be designed with interoperability at its core. Safe interoperability facilitates the seamless and harmonious exchange of electronic trade documents across diverse platforms and systems. This cohesion not only expedites trade processes but also ensures the integrity of data transmission and reception. Such reinforced security landscape will play a crucial role in cultivating a sense of trust and assurance within the trade community, thereby fostering an environment conducive to the expansion of trade activities.

Navigating Migration in the Digital Era

The complexities of migration in the digital age are not overlooked by India's G20 Presidency. With increased digital connectivity, the movement of workers across borders requires a nuanced approach that considers portability of social security benefits, protection of worker rights, and skill recognition. As migration patterns evolve, the G20 recognises the need for collaborative mechanisms that address the concerns and aspirations of workers and professionals abroad. This is particularly pertinent in an era when technology facilitates both labourmobility and cross-border collaboration, necessitating comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreements between sending and receiving countries.

The L20 Summit, in collaboration with the B20 Summit, emphasised the importance of policy reforms, social dialogue, and closing digital divides. This approach underscores a transformative agenda for labour rights centered on Digital Public Infrastructure and cohesion and integration of social security platforms for migratory workforce.

MoS Shri Muraleedharan thus outlined India’s exemplary efforts on this front, “India is unwavering in its commitment to possess a skilled workforce unmatched by any other nation. We must effectively harness the potential of this skilled workforce within our borders to advance our nation while also permitting them to contribute and utilise their talents globally. This necessitates the facilitation of secure and protected migration. This is the rationale behind the motto coined by the Ministry of External Affairs: "Prashikshit Jayen, Surakshit Jayen” (Go Safe, Go Trained). We furnish training facilities and pre-departure orientation programs. Concurrently, we have established integrated e-migrate systems with numerous nations and have forged agreements to synchroise their skilled labor demands with our recruitment agencies. They explicitly specify their prerequisites, enabling us in India to offer appropriate candidates. Concurrently, we prioritise their well-being and security. Our agreements prioritise favorable treatment and fair compensation for our migrants, akin to developed nations' labor forces. This strategy guarantees improved earnings for Indians, thereby benefiting their families back home.”

Conclusion

The G20 spearheaded by India in 2023, recognized the importance and impact of DPIs that serve as the backbone of modern international commerce, empowering businesses to transcend geographical limitations and tap into new markets. By enabling seamless connectivity and efficient data exchange, DPIs invigorate economic growth, subsequently generating employment opportunities. A key facet often overshadowed is the pivotal role that DPIs play in enhancing the employability of the workforce. Through fostering digital literacy and skill development, DPIs equip individuals with the proficiencies required to participate meaningfully in the evolving job market. Furthermore, the cross-border migration of labour is expedited by the connectivity offered by DPIs, allowing a fluid movement of skills and talents across borders. This phenomenon, in turn, enriches cultural diversity and promotes cross-pollination of ideas, driving innovation on a global scale. A notable aspect that underscores the significance of DPIs is their role in ensuring social security for the mobile workforce. By integrating mechanisms for the seamless transfer of social security benefits, DPIs provide a safety net for workers, fostering a sense of security even in transnational work arrangements. Therefore, the pervasive influence of DPIs on global trade and employment is undeniable. As these digital infrastructures continue to evolve and expand, their capacity to bridge gaps, empower individuals, and foster economic prosperity will remain a linchpin in the interconnected world economy.

(The author is Correspondent, All India Radio. You can send us your feedback on this article @feedback.employment@gmail.com).

Views expressed are personal