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Effects Of India’s Move To Increase Tariffs Of Palm Oil From Malaysia

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On 28th September 2019, in a speech in United Nations General Assembly speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad said that India had “invaded and occupied” Kashmir by scrapping off Article 370 of Indian Constitution.[1] In retaliation, Indian Govt. threatened to ban, or impose high tariffs on, palm oil trade with Malaysia.[2]

Through this paper, the researcher attempts to show how a single political statement can influence the trade relations between countries and in turn their economies.

The researcher has undertaken the research on the assumption that Indian Govt. will highly increase the import tariffs on import of palmoil from Malaysia. In this paper, researcher analyses the impact on Indian and Malaysian economy under two conditions –

-Indian traders continue to purchase from Malaysia despite an increase in palm oil tariffs.

-Indian traders shift to other countries for purchasing palm oil.

It is important to know that for the fiscal year ending 31st March 2019, Malaysia’s imported from India goods worth $6.4 billion, while exported to India goods worth $10.8 billion.[3] Thus, Malaysia is in trade surplus with India of $4.4 billion. This is because India imports high-priced goods such as petroleum and palm oil at a large scale while India exports commodities such as sugar, wheat, rice, meat, etc.[4]In 2018, India imported palm oil worth $5.5 billion of which $1.3 billion was imported from Malaysia. This trade between the two countries constitutes 0.05% of India’s GDP and 0.41% of Malaysia’s GDP (GDP of Malaysia is $314bn while that of India is $2.5tn.).

A major limitation of the paper is the paucity of scholarly articles on the subject since the incident in question happened in October 2019.Therefore, the researcher has primarily relied upon newspaper articles to substantiate his arguments.

India Continues To Purchase From Malaysia Despite Increase In Tariffs

Indonesia and Malaysia constitute 85% of the total palm oil production, therefore the first response of Indian buyers is to buy palm oil from Indonesia but that may be improbable.[5] The reason being CPOPC (Council of palmoil Producing Countries) which is an organisation and both Malaysia and Indonesia are a part of this and their goal is to fight together against nations that increases tariffs on import of palm oil.[6] This opens a possibility that Indonesia may not sell to India and Indian buyers have to buy from Malaysia for want of alternatives. In this chapter, the researcher will analyse the impact on both the countries when Indonesia refuses to sell to India, whereas in the next chapter, the researcher will look into the impact when Indonesia agrees to sell to India.

Impact On Indian Economy

Due to an increase in import tariffs, it would now be expensive for Indian buyers to buy from Malaysia.This tax would not be borne only by the buyers of palm oil from Malaysia but also by its final consumers in India. The burden of tax increase will almost be equally borne by both consumers and sellers because of in inelastic supply as well as an inelastic demand.

Inelastic supply means that the supply of palm oil is not dependant on price in short run while inelastic demand means the demand of palm oil is not determined by the prices of palm oil in the short run. The elasticity of demand and supply play a major role in determining the prices of the goods and services. For Example- The demand for medicine is inelastic the price doesn’t come in the way of purchasing medicines. Also, the supply of water is inelastic as its availability doesn’t change with the change in prices. It is the elasticity of both demand and supply that determines the price.

The supply is inelastic as the palm oil trees bear fruits after 30 months of planting and continue to do so for next 20-30 years.[7] Therefore, it is not possible to see a change in supply when tariffs are imposed on the import of palmoil. The demand is also inelastic because of no alternate nation to get supplies from and there is lack of availability of economically viable substitutes. On one hectare of land, there is a yield of 3.7 tonnes of palmoil as against just 0.38 tonnes and 0.48 tonnes of soybean and sunflower oil respectively.[8]Though some consider soybean oil to be a substitute, data shows otherwise.

Palm oil and soybean oil are cross-price inelastic.[9]Their cross price elasticity at 0.103 shows that for 1% decrease in demand forpalm oil, there need to be approx. 10% reduction in the price of Soybean oil, thus Soybean oil is not a good substitute in lieu of palmoil.

The extent of the taxes borne by the sellers will reduce the profits and revenue of the businesses. The increase in cost of production will affect most of the FMCG companies, whether big or small, as they use palm oil as a raw material. This can also lead businesses to reduce the no. of workers they employ. As of now, the FMCG sector is 4th largest in our economy and provides jobs to 3 million people and 5% of the total factory employment in the country. Recent government reports have shown that unemployment rate in India is at its four-decade high. It can get aggravated by purchasing palm oil at increased tariffs.[10]

The extent of the taxes borne by the buyers will make the goods costly for them. Palmoil is used in products like soaps, shampoo, ice-cream, detergents, lip-stick, etc and increase in price of these daily-use products will adversely affect the expenditure budget of the households. Therefore household savings will reduce. Also such an increase in price of a bundle of goods may also lead to inflation.

During FY 12 and FY 17, India’s saving rate (the percentage of GDP saved) has been constantly declining and the main reason is the reduction in household savings. During the same time, the share of the households in total investment also dropped. There is a direct correlation between the household savings rate and household investment rate.[11]Thus, a further decrease in household savings due to increase in prices of those products manufactured using palmoil will leave people with less money to save and invest in banks, stock market, mutual funds, etc. it will decrease the investment in India to some extent which in turn leads to less infrastructural development.[12] This will hinder the growth of small and new businesses and will lead to reduced economic growth in India.

In the current scenario, when the Indian economy is badly hit and growth rate is very low, doing something that will increase the cost of production of almost entire FMCG sector which is 4th largest sector in India’s economy will be detrimental to Indian economy.
Indian Traders Shift To Indonesia To Purchase Palm Oil

When Indian govt. increases tariffs on the import of palmoil from Malaysia, it makes such a trade with Malaysia less attractive for the buyers in India. They would thus import from Indonesia as it is the only viable option after Malaysia as both of them together produce 85% of the palmoil production. As regards the CPOPC, there is no formal agreement and there are high chances that Indonesia will sell the oil to India. In this chapter, researcher shall analyse the impact of the same.

Reduced Foreign Exchange Reserves

The impact on the Malaysian economy will be very detrimental as India buys palmoil worth $1.3 billion annually and total exports of Malaysia are only $240 billion. When this trade shifts to Indonesia, it will lead to a reduction in exports and foreign exchange reserves in Malaysia by $1.3 billion.

As of 15th Nov 2019, Foreign Exchange Reserves of Malaysia stands at $103.2 billion.[13] And losing 1.25% of their Foreign Exchange reserves can have serious impacts on the economy in long run. These reserves are used for making payment outside the country and thus is important for payment of imports. Having sufficient reserves also help in preventing a country from external crisis. If Malaysian foreign exchange reserves were to fall, it would reduce its ability to pay for making payment for imports without incurring debt. Also, it would minimize the capacity to mitigate external shocks such as fluctuations in currency rate as selling or buying foreign exchange reserves can change their currency’s value.[14] Foreign Exchange reserves help to maintain international confidence which may take a hit if the reserves level reduces in Malaysia.

Reduced Trade Surplus

With a reduction in exports by $1.3 billion due to India not purchasing palmoil from Malaysia, the Balance of Trade surplus will fall by 5.7% of the 2017 level. The graph in annexure 5 shows the imports and exports of Malaysia from the period between 2007 and 2017.[15]The graphin annexure 6 shows the Balance of Trade in Malaysia.[16] Malaysia is one of a few countries whose balance of trade runs in surplus i.e. exports exceed imports.

A trade surplus is beneficial for an economy as it provides the nation with competitive advantages. Since the country is running in ‘profits’, they produce more which leads to more employment, a reduction in unemployment and generation of more income. This increases the standard of living of the people residing in the country. Also, the country has the capacity to import more. The 5.7% reduction will not be detrimental to the Malaysian economy as it already is enjoying trade surplus but can reduce these perks of being in trade surplus.[17]

Conclusion

The analysis by the researcher shows how a political statement can influence the trade relations among countries and also their economies. In the given case when India threatened Malaysia, it is analysed that the Indian economy will suffer if India purchases from Malaysia due to increase in cost of production and decrease in household savings but if India purchases  from Indonesia, it will prove to be detrimental to Malaysian economy due to reduction in foreign exchange reserves and trade surplus.

This is not the first time there has been international trade affected by politics. The government’s intervention in trade is not uncommon despite the growing trends of globalisation. In fact, political factors have a huge impact on such trades. After Pulwama attacks took place, India imposed 200% custom duty on all imports and took off the status of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) from Pakistan. Ideally, India should not have taken that step considering the stance it took in 1991 to open up the economy to the world and imposing such harsh import conditions on one nation is a blatant violation of the same. But considering the history of Indo- Pakistan relationship and to improve your political standing as a daring country, India took that step. It shows us how much international trade is intertwined by politics that is seems almost impossible to be able to separate them.

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Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha

After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.

The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.

In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.

Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.

None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.

First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.

Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.

A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.

Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.

In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.

Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.

While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.

In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.

However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.

First published on China Daily, via World Bank

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The US Economic Uncertainty: Bitcoin Faces a Test of Resilience?

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Is inflation harmful? Is inflation here to stay? And are people really at a loss? These and countless other questions along the same lines dominated the first half of 2021. Many looked for alternative investments in the national bourse, while others adopted unorthodox streams. Yes, I’m talking about bitcoin. The crypto giant hit records after records since the pandemic made us question the fundamentals of our conventional economic policies. And while inflation was never far behind in registering its own mark in history, the volatility in the crypto stream was hard to deny: swiping billions of dollars in mere days in April 2021. The surge came again, however. And it will keep on coming; I have no doubt. But whether it is the end of the pandemic or the early hues of a new shade, the tumultuous relationship between traditional economic metrics and the championed cryptocurrency is about to get more interesting.

The job market is at the most confusing crossroads in recent times. The hiring rate in the US has slowed down in the past two months, with employers adding only 199,000 jobs in December. The numbers reveal that this is the second month of depressing job additions compared to an average of more than 500,000 jobs added each month throughout 2021. More concerning is that economists had predicted an estimated 400,000 jobs additions last month. Nonetheless, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate has ticked down to 3.9% – the first time since the pre-pandemic level of 3.5% reported in February 2020. Analytically speaking, US employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet businesses are still looking for more employees. The leverage, therefore, lies with the labor: reportedly (on average) every two employees have three positions available.

The ‘Great Resignation,’ a coinage for the new phenomenon, underscores this unique leverage of job selection. Sectors with low-wage positions like retail and hospitality face a labor shortage as people are better-positioned to bargain for higher wages. Thus, while wages are rising, quitting rates are record high simultaneously. According to recent job reports, an estimated 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November alone. Given that this data got collected before the surge of the Omicron variant, the picture is about to worsen.

While wages are rising, employment is no longer in the dumps. People are quitting but not to invest stimulus cheques. Instead, they are resigning to negotiate better-paying jobs: forcing the businesses to hike prices and fueling inflation. Thus, despite high earnings, the budget for consumption [represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] is rising at a rate of 6.8% (reported in November 2021). Naturally, bitcoin investment is not likely to bloom at levels rivaling the last two years. However, a downfall is imminent if inflation persists.

The US Federal Reserve sweats caution about searing gains in prices and soaring wage figures. And it appears that the fed is weighing its options to wind up its asset purchase program and hike interest rates. In March 2020, the fed started buying $40 billion worth of Mortgage-backed securities and $80 billion worth of government bonds (T-bills). However, a 19% increase in average house prices and a four-decade-high level of inflation is more than they bargained. Thus, the fed officials have been rooting for an expedited normalization of the monetary policy: further bolstered by the job reports indicating falling unemployment and rising wages. In recent months, the fed purview has dramatically shifted from its dovish sentiments: expecting no rate hike till 2023 to taper talks alongside three rate hikes in 2022.

Bitcoin now faces a volatile passage in the forthcoming months. While the disappointing job data and Omicron concerns could nudge the ball in its favor, the chances are that a depressive phase is yet to ensue. According to crypto-analysts, the bitcoin is technically oversold i.e. mostly devoid of impulsive investors and dominated by long-term holders. Since November, the bitcoin has dropped from the record high of $69,000 by almost 40%: moving in the $40,000-$41,000 range. Analysts believe that since bitcoin acts as a proxy for liquidity, any liquidity shortage could push the market into a mass sellout. Mr. Alex Krüger, the founder of Aike Capital, a New York-based asset management firm, stated: “Crypto assets are at the furthest end of the risk curve.” He further added: “[Therefore] since they had benefited from the Fed’s “extraordinarily lax monetary policy,” it should suffice to say that they would [also] suffer as an “unexpectedly tighter” policy shifts money into safer asset classes.” In simpler terms, a loose monetary policy and a deluge of stimulus payments cushioned the meteoric rise in bitcoin valuation as a hedge against inflation. That mechanism would also plummet the market with a sudden hawkish shift.

The situation is dire for most industries. Job participation levels are still low as workers are on the sidelines either because of the Omicron concern or lack of child support. In case of a rate hike, businesses would be forced to push against the wages to accommodate affordability in consumer prices. For bitcoin, the investment would stay dormant. However, any inflationary surprises could bring about an early tightening of the policy: spelling doom for the crypto market. The market now expects the job data to worsen while inflation to rise at 7.1% through December in the US inflation data (to be reported on Wednesday). Any higher than the forecasted figure alongside uncertainty imbued by the new variant could spark a downward spiral in bitcoin – probably pushing the asset below the $25000 mark.

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Platform Modernisation: What the US Treasury Sanctions Review Is All About

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Image source: home.treasury.gov

The US Treasury has released an overview of its sanctions policy. It outlines key principles for making the restrictive US measures more effective. The revision of the sanctions policy was announced at the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidential term. The new review can be considered one of the results of this work. At the same time, it is difficult to find signs of qualitative changes in the US administration’s approach to sanctions in the document. Rather, it is about upgrading an existing platform.

Sanctions are understood as economic and financial restrictions that make it possible to harm the enemies of the United States, prevent or hinder their actions, and send them a clear political signal. The text reproduces the usual “behavioural” understanding of sanctions. They are viewed as a means of influencing the behaviour of foreign players whose actions threaten the security or contradict the national interests of the United States. The review also defines the institutional structure of the sanctions policy. According to the document, it includes the Treasury, the State Department, and the National Security Council. The Treasury plays the role of the leading executor of the sanctions policy, and the State Department and the NSS determine the political direction of their application, despite the fact that the State Department itself is also responsible for the implementation of a number of sanctions programmes. This line also includes the Department of Justice, which uses coercive measures against violators of the US sanctions regime.

Interestingly, the Department of Commerce is not mentioned among the institutions. The review focuses only on a specific segment of the sanctions policy that is implemented by the Treasury. However, it is the Treasury that is currently at the forefront of the application of restrictive measures. A significant part of the executive orders of the President of the United States and sanctions laws imply blocking financial sanctions in the form of an asset freeze and a ban on transactions with individuals and organisations. Decrees and laws assign the application of such measures to the Treasury in cooperation with the Department of State and the Attorney General. Therefore, the institutional link mentioned in the review reflects the spirit and letter of a significant array of US regulations concerning sanctions. The Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security are responsible for a different segment of the sanctions policy, which does not diminish its importance. Export controls can cause a lot of trouble for individual countries and companies.

Another notable part of the review concerns possible obstacles to the effective implementation of US sanctions. These include, among other things, the efforts of the opponents of the United States to change the global financial architecture, reducing the share of the dollar in the national settlements of both opponents and some allies of the United States.

Indeed, such major powers as Russia and China have seriously considered the risks of being involved in a global American-centric financial system.

The course towards the sovereignty of national financial systems and settlements with foreign countries is largely justified by the risk of sanctions.

Russia, for example, is vigorously pursuing the development of a National Payment System, as well as a Financial Messaging System. There has been a cautious but consistent policy of reducing the share of the dollar in external settlements. China, which has much greater economic potential, is building systems of “internal and external circulation”. Even the European Union has embarked on an increase in the role of the euro, taking into account the risk of secondary sanctions from “third countries”, which are often understood between the lines as the United States.

Digital currencies and new payment technologies also pose a threat to the effectiveness of sanctions. Moreover, here the players can be both large powers and many other states and non-state structures. It is interesting that digital currencies at a certain stage may present a common challenge to the United States, Russia, China, the EU and a number of other countries. After all, they can be used not only to circumvent sanctions, but also, for example, to finance terrorism or in money laundering. However, the review does not mention such common interests.

The text does propose measures to modernise the sanctions policy. The first one is to build sanctions into the broader context of US foreign policy. Sanctions are not important in and of themselves, but as part of a broader palette of policy instruments. The second measure is to strengthen interdepartmental coordination in the application of sanctions in parallel with increased coordination of US sanctions with the actions of American allies. The third measure is a more accurate calibration of sanctions in order to avoid humanitarian damage, as well as damage to American business. The fourth measure is to improve the enforceability and clarity of the sanctions policy. Here we can talk about both the legal uncertainty of some decrees and laws, and about an adequate understanding of the sanctions programmes on the part of business. Finally, fifth is the improvement and development of the Treasury-based sanctions apparatus, including investments in technology, staff training and infrastructure.

All these measures can hardly be called new. Experts have long recommended the use of sanctions in combination with other instruments, as well as improved inter-agency coordination. The coordination of sanctions with allies has escalated due to a number of unilateral steps taken by the Trump Administration, including withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal or sanctions against Nord Stream 2. However, the very importance of such coordination has not been questioned in the past and has even been reflected in American legislation (Iran). The need for a clearer understanding of sanctions policy has also been long overdue. Its relevance is illustrated, among other things, by the large number of unintentional violations of the US sanctions regime by American and foreign businesses. The problem of overcompliance is also relevant, when companies refuse transactions even when they are allowed. The reason is the fear of possible coercive measures by the US authorities. Finally, improving the sanctioning apparatus is also a long-standing topic. In particular, expanding the resources of the Administration in the application of sanctions was recommended by the US Audit Office in a 2019 report.

The US Treasury review suggests that no signs of an easing are foreseen for the key targets of US sanctions. At the same time, American business and its many foreign counterparties can benefit from the modernisation of the US sanctions policy. Legal certainty can reduce excess compliance as well as help avoid associated losses.

From our partner RIAC

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