Digital Transformation - Leading the Way - Inspring the Future

New Dehli, 01.09.2017 - Swiss Indian Business Session and Innovation Dialogue on "Digital Transformation - Leading the Way - Inspring the Future", President of the Swiss Confederation Doris Leuthard

Honourable Minister, Excellencies,

Esteemed panellists, participants and guests,

I am delighted to be here with you today, and I would like to thank you for your interest! Few countries outside Europe arouse as much interest in Switzerland as India: 

  • India enjoys particular respect in Switzerland as the world’s largest democracy – and as a country that places as much importance in public political participation as we do. 
  • Switzerland’s swift recognition of India’s independence in 1947, the prompt adoption of diplomatic contacts and the conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship in 1948, laid the foundations for the good relations between our two countries that continue to this day. 
  • Economic and commercial ties between our two countries are rooted in the pre-independence days of India when Switzerland was establishing its first trading operation. Exchanges began to flourish in the 19th century (Handelshaus Volkart) and there was even cooperation regarding the railways (Escher-Wyss). Ø  We are impressed by India’s rich history and culture. They have served as inspiration to many a Swiss writer and traveller (Hermann Hesse, Ella Maillart). Indian influences and teachings, such as yoga, now form part of everyday life for many Swiss. In turn, we know that there is a fascination in India for our mountains. 
  • As different as we are – diversity is like a magnet that pulls people together.

Naturally the 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship allows us to look back, but more importantly it is an opportunity to look to the future.

My visit marks the launch of a series of events, both this year and next, under the motto of ‘70 Years of Swiss-Indian Friendship: Connecting Minds – Inspiring the Future’. These will be dedicated to the question of how our two countries can work even more closely together in the future. The focus lies in creating opportunities in business, research and technology, but also in the fields of governance, art and social inclusion.

Ladies and gentlemen           

Many of today’s challenges – such as slowing the pace of climate change, managing migration, fighting poverty and achieving the UN’s social development goals (Agenda 2030) – can only be tackled together. Progress has already been made in some of these areas: never has access to education, electricity or mobility been a reality for so many. Information and communications technologies can also play an important part in improving general livelihood and economic activity.

In connection with digitalisation, the Swiss like to remind people that the World Wide Web was developed in our country. Although it has to be said that the inventor – Tim Berners-Lee – is from the UK and was working at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Geneva at the time. And we are all aware that India is renowned the world over for its outstanding IT experts! It just goes to show that international cooperation is worthwhile.

Access to information and communications technologies, digital infrastructure, is of the utmost importance in overcoming global challenges and in boosting prosperity.

Digitalisation inspires some, but fills others with trepidation. Some fear that increasing digitalisation and automation will leave people out of a job. I remain confident that we will see new occupations emerge. People will still be important – but we will all have to up our game. How we interact with technology will change. Everything will be connected with everything else. We therefore have to invest in education, in the ability to handle robots, drones and other technologies. That process must start at school and continue through lifelong learning.

If we are to prevent a situation in which just a few benefit from digitalisation, it has to be democratised. Political and economic actors have a responsibility an have the task of actively encouraging openness, innovation and the exchange of knowledge. That will inspire confidence and open up prospects for the future!

At a global level there needs to be a concerted approach to tackling criminal activities and close cooperation between all stakeholders: 

The internet is evolving at a rapid pace, but there is a regulatory lag. How do we close that gap? Pooling the strengths of different stakeholders to protect infrastructure and users in order to achieve a safer internet for everyone is a way forward.

The UN Internet Governance Forum is one of the most relevant global platforms for multi-stakeholder dialogue about how to benefit from the opportunities and how to minimise risks that the internet and the digital transformation offer. I am proud to inform you that the Swiss government will host this year’s IGF in Geneva in December and I would like to invite India to participate in the preparations, as well as in the discussions at the IGF itself.

Ladies and gentlemen

Attractive economic policy conditions are a prerequisite and Switzerland focuses on several sectors, such as the labour market, entrepreneurial freedom, education and infrastructure. To my understanding, India has adopted a similar strategy by focusing on raising awareness and on skills development, while making sure that the appropriate infrastructure is available.

As one example, since 2013, swissnex India has coached over 200 hi-tech Swiss start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs in India. The underpinning driver in all these start-ups has been ‘digitalisation’ given their core domains of healthcare, medtech, the Internet of Things (IoT), or even fintech.

Cooperation in the field of digitalisation is just one aspect of the broad economic relations between our two countries. Exchanges are generally intensive: India is one of Switzerland’s most important trade partners in Asia. Switzerland is the eleventh largest foreign investor in India. The presence of Swiss companies in India has continually increased in recent years.

Despite Switzerland’s small size it is one of the world’s most innovative countries, one of the most important financial centres and one of the most open countries with a string commitment to human rights and sustainable development.

To further strengthen economic relations, we want to bring the negotiations on a free trade agreement that have been running between the European Free Trade Association and India since 2008 to a close. This was one the subjects raised during my talks with the Indian government. In order to attract foreign investment it is also important to have in place a reliable investment protection framework. Particularly in view of digitalisation a strong legal basis is paramount for our economic relations.

Ladies and gentlemen

Let me be clear: even though we may have a number of things on our to-do list – we have already come along way! When Jawaharlal Nehru and Swiss ambassador Armin Däniker signed the Treaty of Friendship in 1948, they could never have imagined the progress our two countries have made!                                                                                   

Each country has its own history, its own characteristics - and globalisation challenges each if us in different ways. But of one thing I am certain: the world faces challenges which can only be resolved by working together. I hope that my visit helps to further strengthen our bilateral relations. 

Address for enquiries

Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC), Press and Information service, Kochergasse 6, 3003 Bern, +41 58 462 55 11


General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; General Secretariat DETEC

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