Sheikh Hasina-Modi Summit, 2022: A Pathway Towards ICT Cooperation

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“We now look forward to working with you to take our ties to new domains- Artificial Intelligence, cyber security, startups, Fintech”.

S. Jaishankar

At the invitation of the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, made a State Visit to India from September 05 to September 08, 2022. The meeting was successful in many different respects. In particular, the joint remarks on the information and communications technology industry offer a whole new world of opportunities. Nevertheless, Bangladesh and India’s cooperation in the information and communications technology industry has shed upon fresh light on the possibility of future cooperation on cutting-edge technology.

As a pioneer in the area of information and communications technology (ICT), India has the benefit of having an extraordinary sub-regional cooperative framework for the development of a strong ICT industry. The first step was taken in Bangladesh because of Bangladesh’s interest in information technology and the many initiatives that are now being conducted on the subject. Because it has the potential to bring about effective reforms, job creation, industrial expansion, and strong spillover effects to other sectors, as well as improve governance and facilitate inclusiveness, Bangladesh has designated the information and communications technology industry as a “push sector.” The present Country Assistance Strategy that the World Bank has in place for Bangladesh acknowledges the important role that information and communications technology plays in supporting Bangladesh’s economic, competitiveness, and governance objectives. In the field of information technology (IT) services and IT-enabled services, there is a desirable market segment with a value of 475 billion US dollars, and nations are vying for it.

In comparison to the size of its national population (which is over 165 million) and the size of its national economy, the information and communications technology (ICT) business in Bangladesh is very modest. This is particularly true for the software and ITES industries. On the other side, the government of India is now providing funding for a project that would establish high-tech parks in a total of twelve of Bangladesh’s districts. In addition to this, a program that will facilitate the exchange of education centered on ICT has also been launched between these two nations. The recent IT summit and memorandums of understanding put up the idea of future cooperation on cutting-edge technology. When it comes to the information and communications technology sector, Bangladesh and India have huge domestic markets, which is a crucial advantage for their mutual cooperation.

During the summit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), Government of India and the Ministry of Railways, Government of Bangladesh on the issue of collaborating in the development of IT systems for Bangladesh Railway, including FOIS and other IT applications. In addition, the two Prime Ministers came to an agreement to work together in new areas of collaboration, including information and communication technology (ICT) and cyber security.

Outcome of the summit; keep the continuous process of robust collaboration

Developments on the railway system via FOIS (Management Information System)

During the summit, the two countries came to an agreement to work together on freight operations information systems (FOIS), with the goal of enhancing the communication systems used by Bangladesh’s railways. The FOIS will improve the distribution of rakes, wagons, and locomotives, as well as schedule and route traffic in a way that is both efficient and cost-effective. This will allow for optimal usage of expensive assets and resources. Furthermore, FOIS will improve global tracking of consignments while they are in trains and wagons. It will also provide continuous cargo visibility and instant access to information regarding the status of consignments in transit to freight customers. Finally, it will simplify logistic management by extending such facilities to customer premises. Due to a lack of adequate management information systems, the Bangladeshi railway administration has been forced to contend with a variety of difficulties. Productivity in the railway industry will continue with the help of FOIS.

Bringing the trade imbalance down

Since the beginning of the previous decade, India’s investments in a variety of markets, most notably the information and communications technology (ICT) market, have expanded, while the trade gap between the two nations has shrunk. On the other side, the government of Bangladesh has taken action to ensure that the information and communications technology industry contributes at least 5 billion US dollars annually by the year 2025. The majority of the goods that are traded between Bangladesh and India these days are foodstuffs and a few other critical non-food commodities. If the implementation of the information and communications technology sector is successful in boosting company, then this will be a game-changing event, and future trade volume will expand.

Developing a new market based on ICT and offering potential for growth

In comparison to the size of its national population (which is over 150 million) and the size of its national economy, the information and communications technology (ICT) business in Bangladesh is very modest. This is particularly true for the software and ITES industries. In spite of this, the software and IT-enabled services (ITES) businesses in this nation have been seeing explosive growth over the last several years. Over the course of the last five years, the annual growth rate of these industries in this region has been more than forty percent on average, and it is anticipated that this growth rate will continue. This hopeful development is backed by favorable trends in software exports as well as a significant demand for IT automation in the local market. If Indian firms and these other company structures work together, there will be a greater probability of Bangladesh’s information and communications technology (ICT) industry producing more jobs. Additionally, the two nations are cooperating to construct a 12 Hi-Tech Park as a joint project. The meeting has cleared the door for future collaboration on the construction of other infrastructure projects.

Collaboration in the ICT market: the way forward

There are over 500 software and information technology services firms registered in Bangladesh. Over 12,000 local information and communications technology specialists are employed by these businesses. It is projected that the size of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry in Bangladesh, excluding telecom, is a total of US$ 300 million; the software and ITES businesses share 39 per cent (US$117 million) of the market. On the other side, India’s technology industry reached $227 billion in sales in 2021, marking the highest-ever pace of growth for the sector. The summit highlighted a potential future for information and communications technology (ICT) ties between Bangladesh and India, which would ultimately lead to an expansion of Bangladesh’s ICT market and a rise in the value of Bangladesh’s ICT exports. In addition, the summit was successful in bringing to light the whole machine learning industry, which serves as the foundation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The dimension of the 4IR will be increased thanks to collaborative efforts in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Both the government of Bangladesh and the government of India have recognized this potential area of collective dominance, in addition to the immense opportunities it presents. On the other hand, there has been a shift toward giving the same amount of emphasis to cyber security as English.

Additional opportunities for initiatives involving the training and development of skills

Already, thirty individuals have been sent to India to get advanced instruction in a variety of cutting-edge topics, including the Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Extended Reality, and more. In addition, two states have already reached an agreement on some more development for the Bangladesh-India Digital Service and Employment Training Center project (also known as BDSET). At a total of six Software Technology Parks, Hi-Tech Parks, and Sheikh Kamal IT Training and Incubation Centers, specialized laboratories designed specifically for teaching purposes will be established. Additionally, for the following two years, there will be a total of 250 trainees receiving instruction there.

New prospect for cyber security

At the 7th meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission between the two foreign ministers, S. and R., a decision was made to expand the two countries’ collaboration on cyber security. This event, conducted between Jaishankar and AK Abdul Momen, took place here in June of 2022. The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two parties stated that they intended to share information regarding cyber-attacks and cyber security incidents, cyber security technology cooperation, cyber security policies, and human resource development. This was to be done in accordance with the pertinent laws and regulations of each country and on the basis of equality, reciprocity, and mutual benefits. The signing of the joint declaration of cooperation between the two heads of state paves the way for future collaboration between the two nations in the realm of cutting-edge technology.

The issue of information technology has been brought to light as a result of a recent visit between two of the largest South Asian economies. On the other hand, both the governments had unique prospect of self-dependency (Atmanirvar Bharat) and digital supremacy (Digital Bangladesh). The declaration of collaborative partnership in advanced technology not only created a multitude of prospects, but it also made an element of leading the subsequent 4th industrial revolution.

– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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