The rise of India's high-tech industry in the 1990s was only part of the ancient country's economic modernization. Now it's trying to cultivate...

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The rise of India’s high-tech industry in the 1990s was only part of the ancient country’s economic modernization. Now it’s trying to cultivate new businesses, including a world-class biotechnology industry.

Kapil Sibal,one of the government ministers leading that charge, flew into Seattle last night to build on India’s close relationship with Washington and its tech industry.

Sibal, minister of science and technology and ocean development,will be at a Trade Development Alliance breakfast this morning at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.

Indian officials are also visiting New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in a broader effort to build trade and political connections with the United States, but Sibal has Seattle connections. In January, he dedicated Microsoft’s new research lab in Bangalore and signed an agreement with the Microsoft Research India.

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Last night he met with The Seattle Times and discussed India’s ties to the state, Microsoft and biotechnology. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Q:
What do you want to accomplish with your visit?


Kapil Sibal




India minister of science and technology and ocean development

Born: Aug. 8, 1948, in Jallundur, Punjab.

Education: St. Stephen’s College at University of Delhi and Harvard Law School.

Professional: President of Supreme Court Bar Association, 1995-1997.

Public service: Entered Parliament in 1998 as representative of Bihar. Congress Party parliamentary secretary, 2000.


A:
Basically, I want to tell the world, especially the United States that this is the time to come to India, the time to invest. There are great opportunities available.


Q:
Why is a lawyer the minister of science, technology and ocean development — is that sending a message about the importance of intellectual property?

A:
No, I think that just, sometimes, they don’t find the right man for the job. (Laughs).

Q:
What role do you see Microsoft’s new Bangalore research lab playing in India’s technology industry?

A:
Being a lawyer, I talked to some of the Microsoft people. I said we must do something for the law. I said the maximum corruption in India takes place at the scene of a crime when a policeman goes to a scene of crime, he records statements. I asked Microsoft: Can we do something through information technology because technology cannot tell lies, men can, so can we then eliminate this whole concept of oral statements by having a (digital report-taking) handset?

They came back to me … having prepared a program, which is fabulous. I looked at it and said these additions you have to do. Within one month we’ll have the whole software ready. I hope to present it to the prime minister and then do a pilot project and launch it.

There are fabulous things we can do with Microsoft. They are the company that has the expertise; they do a lot of work with us.

Q:
It sounds like your government is putting more emphasis on industries in addition to information technology?

A:
The service sector is fine for contributing to the GDP growth, but the service sector is not going to ultimately provide for the employment that is necessary to level out prosperity in India. So we need to emphasize the manufacturing sector. … We want to generate employment through this process.

Q:
India has strengthened patent protections for drugs. What else is needed to foster the biotech industry?

A:
The multinational drug industry is incapable of moving forward without India at this point. … The reason — you invest $1.5 billion to do research into a new drug and when you put that much money in research and development, at the time when you price the drug for the market you have to recover your costs.

So a new drug is expensive even for people in the middle class of the United States. Even they cannot afford the kind of new drugs that are being produced by multinationals. For 40 percent of that cost, the same drug can be produced in India.

Q:
Will the government subsidize biotech research campuses similar to its computer-industry research parks?

A:
We are doing it. We are building biotech parks with the same facilities. … India is going to become the hub of clinical trials.

Q:
Will the United States lose jobs if India uses its lower cost, skilled work force to lure biotech work from the United States, similar to the way it attracted technology work in the 1990s?

A:
Yes, jobs will be lost all over the world. The more industries shift to produce and manufacture outside the local jurisdiction, jobs are bound to be lost.

But the fact of the matter is we had no jobs in our country merely because everything was being produced outside, right? … Ultimately it’s for the benefit of people. … It is better to lose that job and produce a drug somewhere else that is affordable to the individual because the ultimate purpose of manufacturing a drug is to sell it to a person that’s suffering from a disease.


Q:
As India’s economy grows and salaries rise, how will India compete against countries such as China and the Philippines?

A:
Innovation. Innovation is going to lead to growth and lowering of costs in years to come. If we are an innovative society, I don’t see business will go anywhere else. If it does, well, that’s competition, that’s what it’s all about.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com