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Today, as countries around the world look to advance their technological capabilities, India and the United States have emerged as key players in the field of critical and emerging technologies. Ranging from advanced computing and nuclear energy to artificial intelligence, both countries recognize the role that these technologies can play in strengthening national capacity and addressing developmental challenges. Increasingly India is being viewed as a viable alternative to other nations for ensuring resilient supply chain, innovation hubs and joint ventures. India’s recent effort to become a powerhouse of emerging technologies has not gone unnoticed with the country ranking 42nd at the global stage and ranked 1 among 10 economies in Central and South Asia in the Global Innovation Index 2022 by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

However, to further smoothen their relations, India and the USA must resolve their persisting bottlenecks. The current impediments to bilateral relations in technological collaboration include data localisation, and IPR issues. Further, both sides would also need to reach a consensus on how to navigate the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) export controls that could thwart the seamless access to high technology envisioned under the iCET.

Where does India-U.S. Bilateral Technological Cooperation stand?

Trade and Investment have been a key aspect to India-U.S. relations. The bilateral trade between the two countries in 2021-22 stood at $ 119.42 billion as against $ 80.51 billion in 2020-21. Further, India was the tenth-largest market for American exports (2.3% share), and America was India's biggest market (a nearly one-fifth share) by country, for goods exports. Oil and gas, miscellaneous manufactured goods, coal and petroleum gases, basic chemicals, waste and scrap, and aerospace products and parts were among the main American imports to India in 2022 whereas major Indian goods imported by the United States included miscellaneous manufactured goods, pharmaceuticals and medications, clothing, basic chemicals, textile furnishings, and petroleum and coal products. The IT (Information Technology) services, software, business services, pharmaceuticals, and industrial equipment industries get most of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from India in the United States.

India and U.S. have also engaged on various multilateral and bilateral forums and to collaborate on global issues. With India's participation, the Quad has advanced to a platform for cooperation on global issues and has held regular ministerial meetings. Further, the Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meeting held in 2021 was the first meeting of the TPF conducted after a four-year hiatus between India and the US. India is also a participant in the current U.S.-led trade and economic initiative in the Indo-Pacific region known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).

The two nations leverage innovative technologies with an aim to address issues including climate change, health, energy, education, cyber, defence, and security. To expand their cooperation in science and technology, India and the US launched the US-India Artificial Intelligence (USIAI) Initiative in March 2021. This joint venture aims to foster AI (Artificial Intelligence) collaboration in key sectors such as manufacturing sector, healthcare, energy education and environment reflecting priorities of India and the US.

On semiconductors, the Indian Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) and the Semiconductor Industry Association of the United States (SIA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in April 2022, to discuss potential areas of cooperation between the two nations in the semiconductor industry. The two nations will assist each other on challenges relating to semiconductors under the terms of the MoU, which will further aid in developing India's semiconductor ecosystem.

Further, the recent agreement between India and the U.S. in the form of Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) is a step in the right direction towards adapting to new strategic realities in the Indo-Pacific region. The National Security Councils of the two nations came up with the idea of establishing iCET to increase cooperation in critical and emerging technologies. The iCET's primary objectives are to advance and broaden India and the US's strategic technological collaborations and their industrial cooperation in the field of defence. In the domain of critical and emerging technologies, both countries plan to join six of India’s Technology Innovation Hubs to support at least twenty-five joint research projects in areas such as AI and data science under iCET.

The U.S. has also recognised India as a major defence partner. Both sides have concluded several defence agreements i.e., the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement in 2018, a Memorandum of Intent between US Defence Innovation Unit and Indian Defence Innovation Organisation-Innovation for Defence Excellence in 2018, Industrial Security Agreement in 2019, and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation in 2020. The iCET initiative is further expected to bolster the defence cooperation in AI and military equipment.

In the telecom sector, India and the U.S. have agreed to advance cooperation on research and development in 5G and 6G, facilitating deployment and adoption of Open RAN in India and engaging public-private dialogue on telecommunications and regulations under the iCET initiative.

What Lies Ahead: Prospects for India-U.S. technological collaboration

Through an industry-focused agenda, the iCET offers a significant opportunity to advance trade relations between India and the US. By collaborating with American businesses Indian businesses can emerge as global technological leaders and leverage India's exceptional talent pool to create original intellectual property. As a result, India will be able to increase its domestic skills in evolving sectors like artificial intelligence and health care.

Another area where India and the US can collaborate is in high-performance computing (HPC) technologies and processing units. Plans to ease US - HPC technology export restrictions by India were discussed in the iCET lately.

For the U.S., the advantage through hi-tech collaboration with India lies in ensuring resilient supply chains in the Indo-Pacific, development of a semiconductor design, manufacturing and fabrication ecosystem in India, leveraging complementary strengths and address the security, economic and technological challenges existing in the Indo-Pacific.

The new world order post-pandemic has highlighted the importance of critical and emerging technologies in developing national resilience. It is evident that developing a deeper relationship, sharing technology, expanding trade, and building trust is profoundly in the two countries’ interests. It is a win-win scenario on several fronts – technologic, economic, political, and geopolitical. Building a bilateral system of positive technology sharing between the United States and India will be essential to their success in this next stage.

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