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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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EEU: An Irrelevant Anachronism or a Growing Digital Enterprise Dynamo?

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A commonwealth of interests

The search for a stable Eurasia depended on the effectiveness of a durable system for the post Soviet space which could easily descend into an arc of instability if was not properly managed. Moscow had to be careful not to view these ex Soviet countries as its natural hinterland to be taken for granted and to upgrade its relations with each of them to preserve a communality of interests that had eluded it in Ukraine. The world of the command economy centred on Moscow would be made over on an entirely new basis that reflected the fast moving 21st century digital economy. Where common standards and freedom of movement of people and capital was meant to create a climate of openness and facilitate cross border business not to seal off Eurasia from the outside world. The fragile nature of post Soviet identities meant that a sense of commonwealth and common citizenship rooted in an overarching Eurasian identity would be more appealing to a growing entrepreneurial class disillusioned with the results of narrow ethno- nationalism as a ruling idea. The danger was that the more the Eurasian Union grew in stature it would have to navigate roadblocks deliberately placed there by powerful nationalist interests who perceived it as threat to their power base. And by stoking tensions with Russia periodically these former Soviet states could remind the outside world that they were not tame satellites of Moscow or artificial constructs but were free to decide their own destinies.

The path to some kind of durable Eurasian concept was obstructed by the reluctance of many Eurasian states to give up on the idea that eventually find a place in the west. The Eurasian union might be a useful stopgap while they waited to the privileged world of the west where they felt they ultimately belonged. Even though the chances were slim that it would ever happen. The Russian view of the Eurasian Union was that it would be a modernizing force which would have the express aim of bringing the region closer to the world and transforming it into a forward thinking technological giant. It would not be a repeat of the “Soviet experiment” which was a parallel universe closed to outsiders with information tightly controlled. And with the official version vastly at variance with the grim reality. Its core vision this time around was to effectively connect the region to the outside world and be at the forefront of new innovation. It would not depart from international standards and go off on its own tangent or conduct its affairs with guarded secrecy. But happily embrace new ideas and fresh thinking. Russia’s objectives were to circumvent parochial state leaderships and local bureaucracies and create a global brand that would capture the imagination of high net worth investors and provide a real alternative to pro western orthodoxy. With first class transport, logistics and a digital economy that would be the envy of the world, it would be first and foremost technocratic and meritocratic and not so much ideological in nature.

The Russian leadership concentrated on achieving maximum consensus in decision making and adopting policy positions where the weaker states would not be unfairly disadvantaged. While Russia would be providing the bulk of the digital infrastructure and at its own expense it would be considered common property of the Eurasian economic union in many ways. Russia’s contribution was based on a more generous model than its Chinese partner which took the form of loans that could result in forfeiture of assets if loan payments were not met in time.

Digital future

Thus Russian prime minister Mihail Mishustin recommended at a meeting of the inter Government commission implementing a “digital project” across the whole Eurasian union. This would provide a “specialist information system” in the sphere of “migrant labour” that would better serve the needs of business and the migrant communities. These measures would seek to gradually phase out and replace the patchwork, confusing system of regulations with a common framework. So for example in future the EEU would receive powers that would promote standardization. The Eurasian commission adopted a new technology based system of labelling products that “would apply in future in relation to new categories of labelled products.” The prime ministers of the EEU states approved a document that would “establish a time limit by which member states would be notified of the intention to introduce labelling on their territory.” And would give them a “period of nine months to outlaw unlabelled products.”  The new system should eventually be incorporated fully at the national level so that business could “escape unnecessary burdens” caused by “different systems of control.” and gradually filter out bureaucratic anomalies.

The priority was to create a level playing field so that the EEU was not perceived as just an exclusive club for Government connected state companies. But that it would also create conditions for small and medium enterprises to thrive and expand and ease substantially the costs of doing business. As well as reversing the favouritism traditionally shown to large companies by making the ability of SME’s to operate in an environment that was transparent and equitable more concrete. For example the prime ministers of the EEU states agreed to a “unified ecosystem of digital transport corridors”. The total cost of the scheme would be around 10 billion roubles. The cost divided between the union and the member states. It would provide a “service for the access of electronic route maps, international transport charging rates” as well as electronic protocols that would give updated information on interior ministry regulations etc. This unified system was especially useful to SME sector who were often reliant on “outside platforms” which were often “not connected to each other” and ” the absence of coordination added to their logistical costs.”

Open banking

Similarly the five member states of the EEU have agreed to form a common financial market by 2025. A key role in this is played by financial technology which will be deployed to make financial services “more accessible, cost favourable and safer”. Private and business customers can expect “financial services of higher quality and greater choice to be available”. And with such a hi tech financial monitoring tool at the authorities disposal “credit and financial institutions will have to reveal the origin of their capital”. An important element was the Application Programming interface which gave the programme the capacity to conduct biometric identification and to connect IT systems together so “they can exchange information between themselves.” Also a pilot project was launched which the AFT system together with 13 Russian banks were undertaking. “The aim of it is to improve automated online credit lending for small and medium businesses.” And create a level playing field. This was another example of how the Eurasian Union was preparing the ground for a greater role for the more dynamic and innovative SME sector in anticipation for a shift from a resource based economic model to a more diverse demand and consumption one.

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Capitalism and the Fabrication of Food Insecurity

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Human security can be depicted as the notion through which the widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of individuals can be identified and protected. In simpler words, folks are protected against threats and situations that deem to violate their vital human rights. Thus, with human security, the protection and empowerment of people is promoted. With that said, under the umbrella of human security, food security holds immense significance; as, it is responsible for sustaining human life and health. In addition to that, it also stipulates individuals on the required energy for progression, resulting in the evolution of state institutions and its functioning. Henceforth, food security has a direct co-relation with the development of a state.

Notwithstanding, the lack of access to sufficient quality of affordable food results in food insecurity, which can be depicted in several states and communities across the globe. However, contrary to popular belief,this food insecurity is not a subsequent of scarcity; in fact, the annual production of food surpasses the benchmark of sustaining one and a half times more food for the world’s entire population. In reality, the scarcity narrative was produced by corporate food regimes to serve their interests through capitalism. Since, it can result in the incorporation of price increase and generation of maximum profit, indicating how the agricultural sector is influenced by the interests of elite companies. In fact, the top eight firms in agriculture hold 80% of the sector’s market share, and these particular institutions dictate the conditions and rules for our food system, while effectively setting the price of grain for the world subsequent to their benefits. As a result, several regions of the world experience food insecurity, which essentially tarnishes their road to progression.

Through capitalism, food has transformed from a necessity into a commodity, solely for the purpose of profiting from its high demand. This denotes the horrors of capitalism; because, profits are given priority over human needs. Due to this lust for profit, corporate food regimes initiated the “Green Revolution” in the 1950s and 1960s. On the surface level, the movement consisted of the development of new disease-resistant strains of food crops, primarily wheat and rice. The incentive was to increase crop yield in the developing world, through countries such as India and Mexico. Nevertheless, beneath the surface, this movement led to an increase in food insecurity and served the interests of the elite. The green revolution led to the introduction of subsistence farming systems, in the form of new technology. However, in order to adapt to this system, farmers required cash to buy seeds, fertilizers and equipment, along with the continuous supply of cash to maintain them. Meaning, the farmers could not rely on eating their own produce and selling the surplus. Instead, crops had to be traded with agricultural corporations, in order to continue to earn a living through farming. Thus, the green revolution did not lead to improving small-scale farmer productivity. In fact, it monopolized the agricultural sector and consolidated the profit in the hands of specific transnational corporations. The companies in turn influenced the agricultural market to their benefit, leading to food insecurity.

Furthermore, food insecurity is a result of the systematic failure of capitalism. One of the ways to attain maximum wealth for agricultural corporations and their shareholders, is through over production. Hence, these companies set a fix price for the farmers cost. In this manner, farmers cannot produce less crops despite declines in agricultural markets. As a result, crops are over produced and their market price declines. In order to cover the fixed costs, the farmers have to carry out more production, which puts them in perpetual debt. In addition, with over production, goods pile up unsold, workers are laid off, demand drops and prices of products increases, resulting in lack of access for poor people.

A country fighting against the influence of the corporate food regime is India; as, Indian farmers in Punjab and Haryana have carried out mass protests recently. Reason being that the Indian Parliament has passed three agriculture acts—Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. Since Modi’s regime favors the interests of the elites and the corporate regimes, these laws have made farmers of India vulnerable to exploitation and the prevalence of food insecurity. Firstly, the laws aim to remove the agricultural produce market committee (APMC), which is the area that regulates the notified agricultural produce and livestock. Through the APMC, traders were provided with licenses and a minimum support price for crops was set. As a result, corporations could not dominate the agricultural sector; however, the new laws challenge that very concept. Even though the Indian government has argued the changes will give farmers additional freedom, the farmers claim that the new legislation shall eliminate the safeguards set to shield them against corporate takeovers and exploitation. Therefore, the monopolization of corporate regimes in the Indian food system shall further devastate the livelihoods of vulnerable communities, and the food insecurity will prevail.

As a solution to food insecurity arising from capitalism, a reappearance in the pre-capitalistic reality should occur, where food is not bought and sold to the highest bidder. Instead, food is sold outside exclusive markets as a basic right of all citizens of a state. This system can be regarded as the system of communal responsibility. The success of which can be traced back to the era of empires, where individuals did not experience food insecurity despite the rise and fall of empires. Proving how, co-operative production and fair distribution of food is possible. Hence, in conclusion, food insecurity is a fabrication of capitalism and the interests of corporations; where, wealth is saturated in the elite class. Accordingly, the solution is to return to the pre-capitalist reality and focus on communal responsibility. 

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China’s Emerging Diamond Industry

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Since the 1980s, China’s economy has been on the rise. With a prosperous manufacturing industry, China has a growing middle class and an ever-increasing demand for luxury goods. Compared to Russia, China does not have large diamond reserves. However, the country makes up for its lack of resources by gaining access to diamond reserves in Africa and producing affordable synthetic diamonds.

The Underdevelopment of China’s Diamond Industry

China’s diamond industry is underdeveloped due to lack of resources in diamond mines domestically and overseas. According to a report by Frost & Sullivan in 2014, China is still developing its overseas diamond market, and only a few companies have access to diamond mines.

According to the F&S, Chow Tai Fook, a Hong Kong-based jewelry chain is the only Chinese company that has obtained the DTC (The Diamond Trading Company) qualification of distributors. As a subsidiary company of De Beers, the DTC sorts, values and sells about 35% of the world’s rough diamonds. As a renowned company in the industry, Chow Tai Fook has its diamond polishing factories to source rough diamonds from mining companies directly. It also has supply agreements with Rio Tinto, Alrosa and De Beers. Chow Tai Fook has four diamond cutting and polishing factories—two in South Africa, one in Botswana, and another in China. However, for other renowned Chinese companies on diamond processing, such as Henan Yalong, or CR Gems, they cannot purchase rough diamonds directly from the market, so they mainly produce synthetic diamonds. Even if they are to process rough diamonds, they can only purchase raw materials from secondary markets, where the price of rough diamonds is high, leading to even higher production costs.

By contrast, India, the world’s largest diamond processor, has more than 60 companies with the DTC qualification of distributors. India also has access to a number of essential diamond mines. For a long time, India has relied on suppliers from Russia and Africa and diamond trading centres such as Antwerp, Tel Aviv and Dubai for rough diamonds. Most of the diamonds produced in the world are shipped to India for cutting and grinding and then go into the global retail market. In this way, India dominates the diamond processing industry.

China’s diamond processing industry and African mines

By securing deals with companies and governments that control diamond mines in Africa, China is breaking India’s monopoly on diamond processing through the Belt and Road Initiative. This had caused China’s diamond exports to increase by 72% by 2014, generating revenue of US$8.9 billion. Countries and regions that signed the Belt and Road Initiative in central and southern Africa, such as South Africa, Gambia, Zaire, Botswana, Zimbabwe and their surrounding areas are the most famous rough diamond sources and producing sites of the world. In recent years, Chinese company Anjin Investments, a joint venture between Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Co. Ltd., and Matt Bronze Enterprises of the Zimbabwe Defense Ministry and the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, has been negotiating with the Zimbabwe government on mining resources. President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has recently allocated fresh diamond mining claims to Anjin Investments in Chiadzwa in Manicaland province, four years after the company was evicted from the mineral-rich area alongside other miners on allegations of under-declaring proceed in 2016. Meanwhile, Russian company Alrosa also signed a number of agreements with Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) to establish a joint venture for Zimbabwe’s primary diamond deposits. It will be interesting to see whether China and Russia will cooperate in Zimbabwe for diamond mining in the future.

To summarize, combining Chinese craftsmanship and rough diamonds of high quality is bound to be a massive opportunity for the global market in the future. Besides, it is also crucial for China to strengthen workers’ vocational skills to improve the diamond processing industry’s overall efficiency and production level. As China begins to further invest in the BRI project, Chinese companies may find more opportunities in Africa in the future.

China’s synthetic diamond industry

According to the F&S report, the global market for rough diamonds will lead to a shortage of 248 million carats by 2050. Customers from China and India have significantly contributed to this number. By advancing its technology in producing synthetic diamonds, China finds another way to develop its diamond industry.

In recent years, China’s synthetic diamond industry has been expanding along with the increasing global demand for China’s synthetic diamonds. According to a report by Leadleo on China’s synthetic diamond industry, there were 8,278 diamond equipment, materials, micro-powder, composite sheet, diamond tools and diamond products companies in China’s diamond industry as of the end of 2018. The top five leading enterprises in the industry occupy about 80% of the market share and have high market concentration. In terms of the industry’s geographical distribution, large leading synthetic diamond enterprises are mainly located in the Henan Province due to the local government’s policy preferences. By contrast, small diamond manufacturing enterprises concentrate in the Anhui Province. On a technical level, the low-end sectors of China’s synthetic diamond industry have developed their international market competency by improving their products’ quality to reach international standards. By contrast, Chinese enterprises that manufacture high-end diamonds with special functions still have a long way to go. There is a significant gap between them and leading global manufacturers such as the UK’s Element Six, one of the world’s best manufacturers for high-end synthetic diamonds. Therefore, many artificial diamond companies in China are currently working on enhancing their technology, striving for breakthroughs to meet global customers’ various demands, and obtaining more significant profit margins.

To conclude, China’s diamond industry is emerging. With the development of the synthetic diamond industry and more access to African mines, China is hoping to make more breakthroughs in the diamond industry in the near future.

From our partner RIAC

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