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March 24, 2000


Make 'new economy' useful for 'infotech have-nots': Clinton

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India's rapid strides in information technology came in for rare acclaim today from visiting US President Bill Clinton. He, however, warned of the dangers of creating new social barriers between the infotech haves and the have-nots.

"Today, we see leadership to drive the world's new economy," Clinton told software industry leaders in Hyderabad -- dubbed "Cyberabad" since its emergence as one of India's new software capitals.

"But for me, the true test of the information revolution is not just the size of the feast it creates, but the number of people who can sit at the table and enjoy it," Clinton said. "Millions of Indians are connected to the Internet, but millions are not even connected to fresh water."

The US President also announced a five-year $ 5-million programme of the United States Agency for International Development or USAID to boost Internet services in India, part of his goal to help poor countries close the 'digital divide' with the industrialised world.

Earlier in the day, Clinton arrived in Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which has been making waves in the world's infotech industry. He was received amonst others by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, better known as the cyber-savvy CEO of AP.

'Cyberabad' was plastered with ' Mr President' signs and teemed with American flag-waving school-children.

Hyderabad was chosen for a presidential stopover ahead of Bangalore to spotlight development efforts.

Clinton participated in public functions focusing on health, industry, bilateral trade and interacted with industry luminaries and revealed his mind on several raging issues.

Naidu hailed Clinton's visit to Hyderabad as a major boost for India's infotech sector, which is expected to account for 14 per cent of the country's GDP by 2008, compared to the current 2 per cent.

Clinton said the "cyber revolution" in places like Andhra Pradesh proved that "developing nations cannot only succeed but also lead". He said that Andhra Pradesh had done a remarkable job in bringing the Internet to the people. This, he said, was a stellar example of not just good public values, but good economics too.

Information technology businesses all over India hope Clinton's stop in Hyderabad will trigger a rush in US investment and contracts.

Andhra Pradesh and a US consortium were set to sign an accord to build a new technology city spanning 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) at a cost of $ 12 billion.

"We're moving from brain-drain to brain-gain here in India," said Clinton, noting that the new opportunities in this "software superworld" were drawing Indian-Americans back home.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government says India's IT industry could balloon to $ 100 billion from the present $ 5 billion in just a decade.

In the fiscal year ending March 1992, local software exports totalled a mere $ 4,650. In fiscal 1998-1999, the figure stood at $ 133 million as sops offered by Naidu saw new firms mushroom.

Exports in 2000-01 are expected to top $ 255 million, almost double the current figure but still small compared to Bangalore's target of $ 1.16 billion for fiscal 1999-2000. The number of IT firms in Hyderabad has grown to 300 in nine years.

Prez wows AP industry's luminaries, praises Naidu

Clinton's address was largely extempore. He highlighted the fact that Indian-Americans ran more than 750 companies in America's Silicon Valley. The select audience in Hyderabad applauded the president several times during the course of his speech. Clinton appreciated Naidu's popularity amonst the US intelligentsia and the latter's efforts to leverage the Internet and information technology for the good of the people.

In lighter-vein, Clinton noted how much the cyber craze has changed the English language since he was a boy.

"Then, chips were something you ate, windows were something you washed, discs were a part of your spinal column that when you got older often slipped out of place, and semi-conductors were frustrated musicians who wished they were leading orchestras," he said.

Earlier, Clinton visited a non-profit hospital in Hyderabad and administered polio vaccines to children.

Applauding India's pioneering fight against tuberculosis, Clinton called for more such efforts to eliminate 'modern plagues from the face of the earth'.

On the final full day of his historic visit to India, Clinton visited a clinic immunising children from polio -- which India has almost eradicated -- at a Hyderabad centre, which has become a model for tuberculosis treatment.

"The whole world admires greatly what you have achieved," said Clinton, who called Indians 'trailblazers' for pioneering treatments that are used in the United States today. He also recalled India's leading contribution to math and science in the form of invention of zero and how it helped advance computer science.

He then sought to juxtapose some health facts and said care should be taken to ensure that technology enhances life of the poverty-ridden millions. TB, he said, still kills some 400,000 people in India every year. He also warned of the rise of malaria and the spread of AIDS in India.

"The spread of disease is the one global problem from which, by definition, no nation is immune," Clinton said.

"We must strengthen prevention, speed research, develop vaccines and ultimately eliminate these modern plagues from the face of the earth."

The President announced $ 4 million in new US funds for AIDS research in India and another $ 1 million to study TB. Private US companies, including the Bill Gates Foundation, were also announcing health care funding initiatives for India.

Clinton has also proposed a $ 1-billion plan to make vaccines affordable to the poorest in the Third World, and he promised to work hard to push it through the Republican-led Congress of the US.

'Higher purpose, not higher profits'

Clinton said that even as the information technology revolution was creating 25-year-old millionaires, life should not be governed by higher profits but higher purpose.

Clinton said that getting people connected to fresh water was as important as getting connected to the Net.

He said that the newest discoveries were the best weapons to fight poverty and that no other generation had this many opportunites to fight poverty.

Clinton said that TB, Malaria and HIV were on the rise and that we must find the science to solve these problems and the technology to disseminate the knowledge.

The American president said that thanks to the vision of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who started the Indian Institutes of Technologies, India was fast becoming a world superpower in software. He said thanks to Nehru's policy, India had the second highest pool of scientific manpower in the world.

He said that when he was elected president for his first term in 1993 there were only 50 sites on World Wide Web, now they had increased to over 50 million sites.

He called for a partnership in extending the Internet to the underserved rural areas of the world. He said that if the Net were extended, then overnight the poorest places in the world can have access to the same educational material as the richest schools.

Clinton said that empowerment of the people and the welfare of the community should go hand in hand as some times empowerment was being limited to individuals. He said that everybody counts and that we will all do better when we help each other.

The American president said that the Internet could be used to simultaineously reinforce the cultural distinctiveness and the oneness of human kind.

He hoped that the green business centre that he had inaugurated at the Hitec City would pay attention to environmental issues like global warming and climate change. He said the need of the hour was energy-efficient and clean manufacturing processes as "we have to preserve the environment and should not destroy it."

He said that biotechnology offered a lot of hope in tackling issues of poverty as it offered new varieties of crops that were resistant to desease.

Referring to his visit yesterday to the wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan, he said while he was happy to have seen the endangered tigers, he was sad to learn that in the last year, at least 20 tigers had been poached.

He said the income of the people should be such that they did not resort to poaching animals and instead wished to preserve their heritage, which included animals for posterity.

Left parties protest against the visit of 'imperialist president'

However, his Hyderabad trip was not totally bereft of controversy. Several Left party leaders in Andhra Pradesh today lambasted the National Democratic Alliance or NDA government and Naidu for inviting US President Bill Clinton to India and Hyderabad.

Addressing a huge rally of party activists, the Left leaders said the visit of an 'imperialist' president to India was dangerous for the country and the people.

They alleged that the American president was pressuring the Indian government to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or CTBT and called upon the prime minister not to succumb to the pressure.

They said the joint declarations and the speeches of the US trade representatives proved that the American government was prepared to help India only if it signed the CTBT and opened up the economy further.

They pointed to the American trade secretary's statement that unless the Indian government further reduced the subsidies and other welfare schemes, no foreign investment would come to the country.

They said the expected concessions from American side did not materialise like lifting of economic sanctions. That country also had not condemned cross-border terrorism being encouraged by Pakistan.

US Exim Bank to give $ 500 million credit to Indian banks

The US Export-Import Bank will sign an in-principle agreement here extending a $ 500-million credit line to two Indian state-owned banks, officials said.

The agreement will be signed between Industrial Development Bank of India or IDBI and the Small Industries Development Bank of India or SIDBI on one side and US Commerce Secretary William Daley on the occasion of US President Bill Clinton's visit to Bombay.

The credit will be used to finance "small and medium enterprises in the information technology and other sectors seeking to purchase US goods and services," an IDBI statement said.

"This tie-up is also expected to enhance co-operation between India and the US in the field of information technology related activities," the statement said.

Pharma body airs fears over knowledge trade initiative

In a related development, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PHRMA, while supporting the Indo-US bilateral knowledge trade initiative, expressed its apprehension that it will face serious hurdles given the absence of strong intellectual property protection in India.

PHRMA has asked the US government to designate India as a priority foreign country through the Special 301 review process, and to initiate dispute settlement proceedings in the World Trade Organisation to challenge India's failure to meet its current WTO obligations under the agreement for Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS.

In a despatch from Washington, PHRMA said that strong patent protection will be fundamentally important to allow innovators to benefit from their investments in research and development, and will be particularly important if the bilateral knowledge trade initiative is to succeed and benefit the Indian people.

The implementation of a modern patent system will provide a huge stimulus to the Indian economy, and will help India reverse the 'brain drain' in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other research-intensive industries.

India should draw from its own experiences in the software and information industry sectors, where strong intellectual property protection was followed by significant increases in investment and intensified economic activity in India.

In 1986-87, Bangalore exported $ 39 million of software. Six years later following significant copyright reform, that figure had risen to $ 226 million. From 1988 to 1993, the number of software companies in Bangalore jumped from 23 to 103.

Recent studies, including two by the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank, confirm that investment in the pharmaceutical sector depends on the quality of a country's intellectual property regime.

Surveys of American, German and Japanese pharmaceutical and chemical companies have demonstrated that investors avoid investing on research, manufacturing and licensing in countries that lack effective intellectual property protection.

Compiled from media reports

Bill Clinton's India visit: full


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