In May this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed three years in office. In these three years, the PM has travelled extensively, and fruitfully strengthened India’s ties with great global powers. While ties with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a significant improvement, ties with Israel have also been cemented under the leadership of PM Modi. Come July 4, the Indian PM will set off on a three-day visit to Israel to commemorate 25 years of diplomatic relationships between the two powerhouses.
If one were to look at defence cooperation between the countries, Israel today happens to be the third largest supplier of arms to India. There is absolutely no doubt that defence cooperation is the key driver of the bilateral relationship. Yet, there is a lot which India can learn from Israel in two areas, namely, IT and agriculture, as India is facing a host of challenges in both these domains.
Developed countries like the US and Australia are becoming increasingly insular, and averse to immigration. United States President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have revised business visa rules to restrict the entry of skilled workers from other countries. This is a major shock to the Indian IT industry. Indians have for long been the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme. In fact, in 2014, 70 per cent of H-1B visas approved were those of Indians. However, with Trump laying out his new visa regime that has been largely inimical to the interests of the Indian IT sector, the domain has not been performing well. Many companies have indicated that they will be letting go of a sizable section of employees, and the future does not look bright.
Given all these developments, it is time for India to think out of the box. In this context, India would do well to emulate the Israeli success in start-ups.
Israel is home to 6,000 start-ups, and on a year-on-year basis, their number seems to be climbing with an average of 1,300 new start-ups being founded each year.
The Indian start-up sector, which has been given high priority by the Modi government has grown by leaps and bounds. Significantly, a large chunk of FDI received is in the form of investment in start-ups. A prominent example being Alibaba’s 40 per cent stake in Paytm’s e-commerce business.
However, innovation is sorely missing from the Indian start-up terrain. In this context, Indian start-ups can learn from the Israeli start-ups in regards to innovation, which are creating completely new different industries, cybersecurity being one of them. According to Avi Simhon, the economic adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli private sector spent 4.2 per cent of its GDP on Research and Development (R&D) in 2015. Fourteen out of every 1,000 people employed in Israel, are doing R&D work, compared to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of eight people.
Even in agriculture, India can learn from Israel. India and Israel have signed the Agreement for Agricultural Cooperation in 2006, which led to the evolution of Indo-Israeli Agriculture Project (IIAP). Under the IIAP, Israel has already set up around 26 centres of excellence in 10 states including Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
The Israeli Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, met with several chief ministers, including the CMs of UP and Punjab, this month with an intention to further cooperation in this domain. It would be pertinent to point out, that many farmers are already reporting successes. In Haryana, for instance, the Israeli farm technology has helped farmers in about 500 acres to switch to vegetables and floriculture.
Evidently, India has a lot to learn from the Israeli experience.
The authors are policy analysts