Poor countries emerge as IT powerhouses

Countries like China are replacing old infrastructures and making up for lost time Keystone

The digital divide has left the majority of developing nations without adequate access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).

This content was published on November 26, 2003 - 10:32

But a handful of countries, like India, China and Brazil, have embraced these new tools to become strong contenders in the international marketplace.

“The people I talk to in Europe and the United States are always surprised to see Chinese telecommunications giants knocking on their door, when there’s so much to be done back in China,” said Bruno Lanvin, the head of the World Bank’s Information for Development Programme.

“They don’t understand that this country is thinking about the medium- and long- term, and that it’s already acting like a great power,” he added.

Lanvin’s comments reflect how relations between industrialised and developing nations have evolved in recent years.

Asian dragons

A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme shows that the divide between North and South has by no means gone away, with more than half of the world’s one billion poorest people living in China and India.

But it also notes that these countries are two of the most aggressive economic powers in the developing world, becoming more and more competitive with industrialised nations each day – especially when it comes to ICTs.

According to Pierre Page, the president of the Nyon-based IT company, Teknosoft, the growing number of offshore services provided by developing countries, such as call centres, are provoking job losses in Europe and the US.

“Between 1985 and 2000, India provided countries like Switzerland with the human resources they lacked in the computer sector… and the competition was based more on technical skills than on cost,” said Page, who’s been doing business with the Indian IT giant, Tata Consultancy Services, for 15 years.

For the moment, India and China are the countries that are benefiting most from this growth, but Latin America and Africa are also hoping to get in on the action.

Unprecedented access

Thanks to the development of telephone and information networks, job seekers in poor countries have started gaining access to rich employment markets, without having to leave home.

And the selection of services on offer for countries like Switzerland is seemingly endless.

“Indian-Swiss relations in the information technology sector are already quite advanced,” said Switzerland’s economic advisor to India, Jacques Derron. “If Switzerland wants remain internationally competitive, it has to offer products at the lowest price possible.

“We’ve already started thinking about the next step, which could be in the domain of biotechnology,” he added.

Social divide

Information technologies are having an unprecedented impact on the economic links between nations and are creating digital divides in both poor and rich countries.

More and more, this divide is being defined by skills and education rather than by borders.

And it may be that one day, training, rather than money, will separate the “haves” from the “have-nots”.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva (translation: Anna Nelson)

In brief

A growing number of developing countries are starting to take advantage of information and communication technologies (ICTs), making them strong contenders in the international marketplace.

China and India are leading the pack, but Latin American and African nations are starting to get in on the action as well.

But it remains to be seen whether corporate outsourcing to IT contractors will transform more and more poor countries into IT powerhouses, and at what cost to employment and revenue in developed nations.

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