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Technology

Japan and India team up to help emerging nations go digital

New Delhi's online system allowed for quick distribution of COVID-19 assistance

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, in Tokyo in 2018.

TOKYO -- Japan and India will work to have technology companies build platforms that help emerging nations put government services online, taking ideas from the latter's all-in-one digital infrastructure allowing access to various public services.

Japan's trade ministry will enlist domestic businesses for the project, part of a bilateral partnership signed by the two countries in 2018. Indian engineers will grant licenses that permit Japanese companies to land contracts for digital platforms from third countries, particularly those in Africa.

Japan will begin feasibility studies as early as this year. The ministry will work as a facilitator to match Japanese companies with Indian partners.

"It would take time for a country like Japan to reconstruct a unified system, given all the individual systems in place, but developing nations have flexibility to overhaul entire systems," a trade ministry official said.

The Indian government is ahead of others in embracing digital technology. Each citizen is issued an ID, which aids in the distribution of subsidies to the poor. The system also supports loans and tax collection.

India's private sector can gain access to this digital infrastructure as well, spurring the development of industry.

India's stimulus payouts, prompted by the coronavirus, reached the targeted low-income earners swiftly because IDs were connected to financial accounts. About $4 billion made it to an estimated 320 million people by mid-April, after the stimulus was announced at the end of March.

Japan's government lags in digitizing systems, a problem accentuated by the pandemic. The country faced delays in delivering stimulus payouts of 100,000 yen ($944) to each resident as local governments lacked adequate online systems to process requests.

In addition to marketing the platforms to third countries, Japan plans to use the knowledge gained from the partnership in advancing its own digitization efforts.

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