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3 December 2020, Gateway House

Digital governance, the way forward for global economy

Both India and Canada have interests in strong multilateral systems. WTO and other institutions help create a network of alliances and norms, essential to function in a global economy. India-Canada should collaborate on developing overarching principles, as neutral third parties to develop broad principles to guide the technology exchange across borders that could act as a beacon similar to the UNDHR document.

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Gateway House (GH) – With global cyberspace effectively divided between American, European, and Russian-Chinese camps, what can India and Canada do to advance e-commerce and digital economy?

Rohinton Medhora (RM) – If we do not have the global rules of the game prepared, run and enforced by multilateral institutions, then we all are losers, especially the countries that aren’t superpowers. India and Canada have interests in strong multilateral systems. Both are strong global players but they aren’t superpowers. So, we need the security, transparency, certainty and stability that these institutions provide. The drivers of prosperity are trade, investment, technology flows and exchanges of ideas and values more broadly. So, organisations, like WTO and other Bretton Woods system and other regional institutions and G20 at the apex help us create a network of alliances and norms that we need to functional in global economy. It is a pity of course that in times of crisis and times of questioning globalisation, institutions like WTO are side tracked, not taken seriously or by passed as seen in early days of pandemic. But I also think that countries realise how much they lose by doing that. So, in short run there might be some gains in ignoring WTO but no one, not even the large players are better off in the long run. I would say that India and Canada are neutral third parties in this and have a role to play in reforming and making the institution more relevant. The Ottawa process, that Canada has initiated and of which India is a keen member is one such example.

GH – What are the ethical principles that will guide the global governance system for digital economy or Artificial Intelligence?

RM – You know technology isn’t something that happens as something from heaven or something which happens independently from our society or values. Technology happens because it shapes from within and so the values that drive technology have to be the same values that drive other aspects in our economy. The analogy that I often use is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is the guiding document that hundreds of countries have signed on starting from late 1940s. This doesn’t mean that every country has abide by every element of UDHR but having that overarching set of principles give us a beacon and help us set national and subnational legislation and over time name, shame and even punish people who go against its tenets. Something similar needs to happen in the case of technology, we need to have shared values as to how and why we create technology and uses it can be put. This is not something countries can do on their own because technology flows across borders and we all use each other technology. But, in the digital realm, for example, how robots are developed, what values should shape algorithms that drive machine learning and Artificial Intelligence. There must be some set of broad principles that all countries, certainly all the major scientific powers, abide and if we have that kind of global compact then we would see that technology is serving human kind rather than other way round.

GH – Thank you for your comments.

Rohinton P. Medhora is President, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Canada.

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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