Jadeep Sarkar, the Indian ambassador to Israel, believes that Israel should strengthen its relationship with India. As Asia becomes an important Israeli trading partner, a competition of sorts is heating up between India and China, the two Asian giants, for Israeli technology. Israelis see China as the default destination for business deals in the region, but, according to Sarkar, it may be time to consider his country.
“India has been a stable democracy for decades and an effective court system,” Sarkar told the Times of Israel. “We have a large population of technically qualified people who speak English. And there is a comfort level among Israelis in India, many of whom come to visit our country. There’s no reason our two countries should not be able to prosper together.”
In other words, India is all the things that China is not.
Sarkar skillfully avoided saying so blatantly. As a diplomat, Sarkar, in response to a question on the matter, avoided directly comparing his country to China, instead touting India’s advantages. Those perks are significant, as many Israeli businesspeople who work in China can attest. Language barriers can be considerable, and finding a translator who is fluent in both English and Mandarin, largely spoken and understood in China’s industrialized regions, can be challenging. Business culture can also be an issue, and often Israelis have to get used to a whole new way of doing things, say those who have worked in China.
Even more challenging is ensuring that intellectual property is secured, say experts. Enforcement of intellectual property laws in China is very weak, and even if an Israeli company is able to get a judgement against a Chinese company for patent violation, “the penalties are ridiculously low, and often consist of just a fine,” said Zvi Shalgo, chairman of the PTL Group and chairman of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. The Chinese government has in recent years done more to enforce laws already on the books and to pass new ones, he added, but ensuring that intellectual property is protected is still a challenge.
For many Israeli companies, it’s worth putting up with language, culture and legal challenges to do business in China, because the opportunities are so great. But the opportunities in India are just as good, if not better, according to Sarkar. Those opportunities are a lot easier to take advantage of, because Indians and Israelis “largely speak the same language” culturally, legally, and linguistically.
The Indian market is just as big, and hungry, as the Chinese market. “We have many things you lack,” said Sarkar. “India has plenty of manpower, producing 500,000 scientists, engineers and tech workers each year. We have a huge domestic market, with a very large young population that are hungry to get ahead and join the middle class. And India is a great gateway to southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and to many countries Israel does not have diplomatic or business relations with.”
Israel can do a lot for India as well, Sarkar said. “The Israeli system is exceptional in that it brings together technology and entrepreneurship. You have a wonderful tech incubation system in your universities. Israeli innovation and technology can help solve many of our country’s problems. This is a business relationship that is win-win.”
As Sarkar pointed out, India is already very familiar to many Israelis who have visited there on their post-army “freedom flings.” With so much in common, why hasn’t the business relationship between the two countries blossomed as it has with China? Actually, the two already do a lot of business, mostly in defense and agricultural technology, said Sarkar.
Sarkar would like to see more activity in high-tech fields, including networks, mobile technology, biotech and other hot areas. That deals in those areas have not been as large is the fault of both countries, he said. India has not been as aggressive in understanding what Israel can do, and Israel has not seen India as a place for tech partnership,” said Sarkar. That needs to change, for the benefit of both our countries.”
To help with that process, an organization called India Cyber Connect, led by Vishal Dharmadhikari, is spearheading cooperation in cybersecurity between India and Israel. “Cybersecurity is a good place to launch a more serious tech relationship between Israel and India,” Dharmadhikari said. “With cloud usage growing in India and around the world, more and better security protocols need to be implemented. Israel is a world center of cybersecurity, and I believe that many tech companies in India will benefit from Israeli technology in this area.”