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Indian Economy: Liberalisation gone for a toss?

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India always had an exasperating tie-in with quotas, low tariffs and restrictions. During 1960-85, it had sky-high tariffs but clearly the policies failed miserably. After it borrowed funds from the IMF in 1991 due to the economic crisis, it was compelled to follow the liberalisation policy and thus the regime of permit raj came to an end. The economic policy reforms remarkably upgraded India’s position in terms of GDP growth, quality of life and purchasing power parity. In recent years, it appears that the Indian economy is driving back to the protectionist policies which prevailed the pre-1991 period.

The Protectionism Hypocrisy

At the World Economic Forum meeting in 2018 in Davos, PM Narendra Modi, indirectly pointing towards Trump who have been propelling an “America First” Policy said that some nations were looking inwards and being protectionist. He appealed for more accessibility and free trade. Fast forward to 2019, India opted out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The reasons are believed to be the fear of being swamped by imports especially from China, putting the domestic industries at risk. Given that India already suffers from a trade deficit from the members of RCEP of $105 billion and out of that $53.56 billion is from China alone, this decision seems very rational. But is it really?

Piyush Goyal (Commerce and Industry Minister) claimed that this decision will boost “Make in India” and that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with countries like Japan, South Korea and ASEAN provided them with duty-free access to Indian markets but domestic goods faced barriers in their territories. But this is not the entire picture. To test whether the FTAs were beneficial or not, the Economic Survey 2019-20 conducted research. For this, it took into account 14 trade agreements signed by India. Only the trade agreements with Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka had a negative impact which means that the percentage rise in imports was greater than the percentage rise in exports. Other trade agreements had either no impact or a positive impact.

Talking about the overall effect with the trading partners, the Indian economy actually gained. The impact on exports was 13.4% for manufactured products and 10.9% for the total merchandise. Whereas the impact on imports were found to be lower at 12.7% for manufactured products and 8.6% for total merchandise. Therefore, from the perspective of the trade balance, India has obviously gained in terms of 0.7% increase in trade surplus per year for manufactured products and a 2.3% increase in trade surplus per year for total merchandise. Although, all the views regarding the fallout of the decision to step back from the RCEP agreement are just speculations at this point and we will get to know about the actual effects in the years to come.

Back in January, when Jeff Bezos visited India, he got no reception from PM Narendra Modi. Piyush Goyal advocated that Bezos was only covering up losses from predatory pricing by investing $1 billion in India and also condemned his pledge to create a million jobs by 2025 arguing that it hardly made up for the millions of Indians put out of work by the e-commerce site. It is a popular opinion that the Chinese were able to build tech giants like Alibaba only because they shut out US-based firms like Google and Facebook. Therefore, it is believed that India should also block them and create its own local champions. But to aid its overall development, the Indian economy needs all the economic vigour it can assemble and that involves attracting foreign investors. With its frequent policy changes, India has already got an image as a troublesome and unpredictable place to invest. The government further signalled the investors about their protectionist intentions through this act and risked a dampening effect on investors globally.

Protectiveness Vitiates The Budget As Well

In the budget 2020, the government not only hiked custom duties on a wide range of goods like grocery items, shoes, dolls and toys, ceiling fans, wooden furniture, kitchenware appliances, hairdryers, shelled walnut but also intends to make changes in the Customs Act 1962 through the Finance Bill. It will be amended to give the government the power to impose safeguard duties and tariff-rate quotas on imports on the pretence of injury to the domestic industry. Since the 1991 liberalisation era, this power was restricted to trade of gold and silver. The procedure for claiming preferential tariff rates under trade pacts has also been made complicated with importers having to give declarations along with the certificate of origin.

These changes will surely increase the scope of corruption by bureaucrats as they get more power. Also, these arbitrary tax spikes will lead to economic distortions and worsen the rent-seeking activities by domestic industries as they will lobby for their preferred tariffs which would have been dampened in a world with uniform taxes. Thus, instead, it needs to adopt the strategy of simplified, uniform and predictable tariffs which will eliminate tariff Inversion (in which intermediate goods are taxed more heavily than the final goods) and distortion costs could be kept very low.

The current policy choice reflects a highly mistaken mindset that one can cut back on imports while boosting exports, not realising that a reduction in imports, induced by an increase in tariffs, is expected to lead to a decrease in exports of a corresponding value. This is known as the Lerner’s Symmetry Theorem, a result used in international trade theory stating that an ad valorem import tariff will have the same effects as an export tax and is based on the observation that the effect on relative prices is the same regardless of the policy.

A Call To Escalate Exports

According to the World Trade Statistical Review, 2019 by World Trade Organisation (WTO), India’s average annual growth rate in merchandise exports was 5.3% between 2008 and 2018 which is well below Vietnam, Bangladesh and China. The growth rate of India in commercial services export was 8.6% per year on average from 2008 to 2018. This is below many of the developing countries namely China, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Qatar and Myanmar. There has been a substantial increase in exports of transport equipment, chemicals and food products which contributed to moving up India to the 19th position in world rankings of top exporting countries.

Although India has achieved many milestones in the last decade, it can do much better given its potential and unexplored territories. In fact, the government should try to increase its exports than constantly trying to decrease the imports if it wants to be a $5 trillion economy. Some scholars argue that the huge trade deficit of India is not because of increasing imports but of decreasing exports.

“Unless India’s exports grow at 15%, we won’t get 8% growth. For that, we should reverse some of the protectionist measures taken. If we turn protectionist, I don’t know how can we be an exporting power. Self-sufficient exporting powerhouse is an oxymoron” – Arvind Subramanian said while speaking at a webcast organized by EY India.

In the Economic Survey, while discussing India’s performance on Ease of Doing Business (EoDB), a series of case studies shows the inefficiency in the Indian system of Trading across Borders. As Italy topped the EoDB ranking in Trading across Borders, they compared India’s performance with that of Italy. India takes 60-68 hours in border compliance for exports while Italy took only one hour. Moreover, the cost of compliance is zero in Italy compared to $260-281 in India for export. Almost 70% of the delays occur due to procedural complexities, multiple documentations and involvement of multiple agencies for approvals and clearances. These inefficiencies, in turn, lead to time delay and end up pushing the cost to trade. Progressing digitalisation and combining various companies in a single digital platform could possibly decrease these inefficiencies and enhance users experience considerably.

Also, a study found that an apparels consignment going from Delhi to Maine (USA) takes roughly 41 days, but 19 of these are spent within India due to delays in transportation, customs clearance and loading at sea-ports. Apparently, the process flow for imports is more efficient than that for exports. In contrast, however, the imports and exports of electronics through Bengaluru airport were found to be top-notch. It thus recommended that the processes of Indian airports should be replicated in sea-ports as well.

It also suggested adopting policies aimed at strengthening its involvement in the export market for Network Products (NP) in order to get linked with the Global Value Chain (GVC). Through observations, it has been found that countries who substantially increased their exports and managed to maintain it did it through linking up with the GVCs. Given our vast labour force with relatively low skill-set, India’s strength lies in the assembly of NP. While the short-term objective is the expansion of assembly activities on a large scale by making use of imported parts & components, giving a boost to domestic production of parts & components should be the long-term objective. Assembly is a highly labour-intensive area that can provide jobs for the huge population of our country, while domestic production of parts & components can create high skill jobs. But for a country like India to transform into a preferred location for manufacturing enterprises, it is imperative that import tariff rates for standard goods are zero or negligible.Thus, India needs to control itself on the tariffs and restrictions. India needs accessibility, it needs foreign investment, it needs the competition to be a world-leader.

Conclusion

There are different kinds of restrictions when it comes to protectionism. We can certainly have the set of duties which seeks to create a level playing field for the MSMEs but it becomes harmful when we instead try to protect the industries which are already in a good position in terms of opportunities in the hope to flourish them. There is just a slight difference between these two kinds and policymakers need to incorporate this idea when drafting policies. For instance, India refused to allow permanent tariff liberalisation on health and farm products at the WTO Council Meeting as an answer to trade disruptions caused by COVID-19 is not harmful protectionism. Every country will bear the brunt of COVID-19, the difference being the level of disruptions faced by each one of them. But we should also keep in mind that the least developed and developing countries need to be guarded given the lack of resources available to defend themselves from the crisis.

India acknowledges the disruptions caused in the flow of medical supplies, food and other goods and services across borders and has been playing a proactive role in combating it but doing so at the cost of its own industries is something India (or for that matter none of the countries) would like to do given the economic crisis they are going to face. At the same time blindly putting up restrictions will only lead to increased prices for competitively produced imports and the customers will end up footing the bill. India committed the same mistake back in the 1970s. In order to be self-sufficient, a country needs to make its industries capable through the competition so that the users do not pay the price by buying some cheap quality or inefficiently produced product. Protectionism is not the ideal approach if we want to grow. We should have an equally or even more efficiently produced substitute ready if we want to raise the tariffs. Thus, India should instead focus on the production inside the country and work on infrastructure, logistics, productivity and lifting the standards of products if it wants to reduce the trade deficit.

Aakash Agarwal is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Economics (Honours) from Doon University, Dehradun, India. He has a research interest includes Global Economy, Financial Economics and IR Theory. His work has been published by the Diplomatist Magazine, South Asia Democratic Forum and the Kootneeti.

Economy

Finding Fulcrum to Move the World Economics

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Domenico Fetti / Wikimedia Commons

Where hidden is the fulcrum to bring about new global-age thinking and escape current mysterious economic models that primarily support super elitism, super-richness, super tax-free heavens and super crypto nirvanas; global populace only drifts today as disconnected wanderers at the bottom carrying flags of ‘hate-media’ only creating tribal herds slowly pushed towards populism. Suppose, if we accept the current indices already labeled as success as the best of show of hands, the game is already lost where winners already left the table. Finding a new fulcrum to move the world economies on a better trajectory where human productivity measured for grassroots prosperity is a critically important but a deeply silent global challenge. Here are some bold suggestions

ONE- Global Measurement: World connectivity is invisible, grossly misunderstood, miscalculated and underestimated of its hidden powers; spreading silently like an invisible net, a “new math” becomes the possible fulcrum for the new business world economy; behold the ocean of emerging global talents from new economies, mobilizing new levels of productivity, performance and forcing global shifts of economic powers. Observe the future of borderless skills, boundary less commerce and trans-global public opinion, triangulation of such will simply crush old thinking.

Archimedes yelled, “…give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world…”

After all, half of the world during the last decade, missed the entrepreneurial mindset, understoodonly as underdog players of the economy, the founders, job-creators and risk-taker entrepreneurs of small medium businesses of the world, pushed aside while kneeling to big business staged as institutionalized ritual. Although big businesses are always very big, nevertheless, small businesses and now globally accepted, as many times larger. Study deeply, why suddenly now the small medium business economy, during the last budgetary cycles across the world, has now become the lone solution to save dwindling economies. Big business as usual will take care of itself, but national economies already on brink left alone now need small business bases and hard-core raw entrepreneurialism as post-pandemic recovery agendas.

TWO – Ground Realities:  National leadership is now economic leadership, understanding, creating and managing, super-hyper-digital-platform-economies a new political art and mobilization of small midsize business a new science: The prerequisites to understand the “new math” is the study of “population-rich-nations and knowledge rich nations” on Google and figure out how and why can a national economy apply such new math. 

Today a USD $1000 investment in technology buys digital solutions, which were million dollars, a decade ago.Today,a $1000 investment buys on global-age upskilling on export expansion that were million dollars a decade ago.  Today, a $1000 investment on virtual-events buys what took a year and cost a million dollars a decade ago. Today, any micro-small-medium-enterprise capable of remote working models can save 80% of office and bureaucratic costs and suddenly operate like a mini-multi-national with little or no additional costs.

Apply this math to population rich nations and their current creation of some 500 million new entrepreneurial businesses across Asia will bring chills across the world to the thousands of government departments, chambers of commerce and trade associations as they compare their own progress. Now relate this to the economic positioning of ‘knowledge rich nations’ and explore how they not only crushed their own SME bases, destroyed the middle class but also their expensive business education system only produced armies of resumes promoting job-seekers but not the mighty job-creators. Study why entrepreneurialism is neither academic-born nor academic centric, it is after all most successful legendary founders that created earth shattering organizations were only dropouts.  Now shaking all these ingredients well in the economic test tube wait and let all this ferment to see what really happens.

Now picking up any nation, selecting any region and any high potential vertical market; searching any meaningful economic development agenda and status of special skills required to serve such challenges, paint new challenges. Interconnect the dots on skills, limits on national/global exposure and required expertise on vertical sectors, digitization and global-age market reach. Measuring the time and cost to bring them at par, measuring the opportunity loss over decades for any neglect. Combining all to squeeze out a positive transformative dialogue and assemble all vested parties under one umbrella.

Not to be confused with academic courses on fixing Paper-Mache economies and broken paper work trails, chambers primarily focused on conflict resolutions, compliance regulations, and trade groups on policy matters.  Mobilization of small medium business economy is a tactical battlefield of advancements of an enterprise, as meritocracy is the nightmarish challenges for over 100 plus nations where majority high potential sectors are at standstill on such affairs. Surprisingly, such advancements are mostly not new funding hungry but mobilization starved. Economic leadership teams of today, unless skilled on intertwining super-hyper-digital-platform-economic agendas with local midsize businesses and creating innovative excellence to stand up to global competitiveness becomes only a burden to growth.

The magnifying glass of mind will find the fulcrum: High potential vertical sectors and special regions are primarily wide-open lands full of resources and full of talented peoples; mobilization of such combinations offering extraordinary power play, now catapulted due to technologies. However, to enter such arenas calls for regimented exploring of the limits of digitization, as Digital-Divides are Mental Divides, only deeper understanding and skills on how to boost entrepreneurialism and attract hidden talents of local citizenry will add power. Of course, knowing in advance, what has already failed so many times before will only avoid using a rubber hose as a lever, again.  

The new world economic order: There is no such thing as big and small as it is only strong and weak, there is no such thing as rich and poor it is only smart and stupid. There is no such thing as past and future is only what is in front now and what is there to act but if and or when. How do you translate this in a post pandemic recovery mode? Observe how strong, smart moving now are advancing and leaving weak, stupid dreaming of if and when in the dust behind.

The conclusion: At the risk of never getting a Nobel Prize on Economics, here is this stark claim; any economy not driven solely based on measuring “real value creation” but primarily based on “real value manipulation” is nothing but a public fraud. This mathematically proven, possibly a new Fulcrum to move the world economy, in need of truth

The rest is easy  

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Evergrande Crisis and the Global Economy

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China’s crackdown on the tech giants was not much of a surprise. Sure, the communist regime allowed the colossus entities like Alibaba Group to innovate and prosper for years. Yet, the government control over the markets was never concealed. In fact, China’s active intervention in the forex market to deliberately devalue Yuan was frequently contested around the world. Ironically, now the world awaits government intervention as a global liquidity crisis seems impending. The Evergrande Group, China’s largest property developer, is on the brink of collapse. Mounding debt, unfinished properties, and subsequent public pressure eventually pushed the group to openly admit its financial turmoil last week. Subsequently, Evergrande’s shares plunged as much as 19% to more than 11-year lows. While many anticipate a thorough financial restructuring in the forthcoming months, the global debt markets face a broader financial contagion – as long as China deliberates on its plan of action.

The financial trouble of the conglomerate became apparent when President Xi Jinping stressed upon controlled corporate debt levels in his ongoing drive to reign China’s corporate behemoths. It is estimated that the Evergrande Group currently owes $305 billion in outstanding debt; payments on its offshore bonds due this week. With new channels of debt ceased throughout the Mainland, repayment seems doubtful despite reassurances from the company officials. The broader cause of worry, however, is the impact of a default; which seems highly likely under current circumstances.

The residential property market and the real estate market control roughly 20% and 30% of China’s nominal GDP respectively. A default could destabilize the already slowing Chinese economy. Yet that’s half the truth. In reality, the failure of a ‘too big to fail’ company could bleed into other sectors as well. And while China could let the company fail to set a precedent, the spillover could devastate the financial stability hard-earned after a strenuous battle against the pandemic. Recent data shows that with the outbreak of the delta variant, the demand pressure in China has significantly cooled down while the energy prices are through the roof. Coupled with the regulatory crackdown rapidly pervading uncertainty, a debt crisis could further push the economy into a recession: a detrimental end to China’s aspirations to attract global investors.

The real question, therefore, is not about China’s willingness to bail out the company. Too much is at stake. The primal question is regarding the modus operandi which could be adopted by China to upend instability.

Naturally, the influence of China’s woes parallels its effect on the global economy. A possible liquidity crisis and the opaque measures of the government combined are already affecting the global markets: particularly the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) posted a dismal end to Monday’s trading session: declining by more than 600 points. The 10-year Treasury yields slipped down 6.4 basis points to 1.297% as investors sought safety amid uncertainty. The concern is regarding China’s route to solve the issue and the timeline it would adopt. While the markets across Europe and Asia are optimistic about a partial settlement of debt payments, a take over from state-owned enterprises could further drive uncertainty; majorly regarding the pay schedule of western bondholders amid political hostility.

Economists believe that, while a financial crisis doesn’t seem like a plausible threat, a delayed response or a clumsy reaction could permeate volatility in the capital markets globally. Furthermore, a default or a takeover would almost certainly pull down China’s economy. While the US has already turned stringent over Chinese IPOs recently, a debt default could puncture the economic viability of a wide array of Chinese companies around the world. And thus, while the global banking system is not at an immediate threat of a Lehman catastrophe, Evergrande’s bankruptcy would, nonetheless, erode both the domestic and the global housing market. Moreover, it would further dent Chinese imports (and seriously damage regional exchequers), and would ultimately put a damper on global economic recovery from the pandemic.

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Economy Contradicts Democracy: Russian Markets Boom Amid Political Sabotage

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The political game plan laid by the Russian premier Vladimir Putin has proven effective for the past two decades. Apart from the systemic opposition, the core critics of the Kremlin are absent from the ballot. And while a competitive pretense is skilfully maintained, frontrunners like Alexei Navalny have either been incarcerated, exiled, or pushed against the metaphorical wall. All in all, United Russia is ahead in the parliamentary polls and almost certain to gain a veto-proof majority in State Duma – the Russian parliament. Surprisingly, however, the Russian economy seems unperturbed by the active political manipulation of the Kremlin. On the contrary, the Russian markets have already established their dominance in the developing world as Putin is all set to hold his reign indefinitely.

The Russian economy is forecasted to grow by 3.9% in 2021. The pandemic seems like a pained tale of history as the markets have strongly rebounded from the slump of 2020. The rising commodity prices – despite worrisome – have edged the productivity of the Russian raw material giants. The gains in ruble have gradually inched higher since January, while the current account surplus has grown by 3.9%. Clearly, the manufacturing mechanism of Moscow has turned more robust. Primarily because the industrial sector has felt little to no jitters of both domestic and international defiance. The aftermath of the arrest of Alexei Navalny wrapped up dramatically while the international community couldn’t muster any resistance beyond a handful of sanctions. The Putin regime managed to harness criticism and allegations while deftly sketching a blueprint to extend its dominance.

The ideal ‘No Uncertainty’ situation has worked wonders for the Russian Bourse and the bond market. The benchmark MOEX index (Moscow Exchange) has rallied by 23% in 2021 – the strongest performance in the emerging markets. Moreover, the fixed income premiums have dropped to record lows; Russian treasury bonds offering the best price-to-earning ratio in the emerging markets. The main reason behind such a bustling market response could be narrowed down to one factor: growing investor confidence.

According to Bloomberg’s data, the Russian Foreign Exchange reserves are at their record high of $621 billion. And while the government bonds’ returns hover at a mere 1.48%, the foreign ownership of treasury bonds has inflated above 20% for the second time this year. The investors are confident that a significant political shuffle is not on cards as Putin maintains a tight hold over Kremlin. Furthermore, investors do not perceive the United States as an active deterrent to Russia – at least in the near term. The notion was further exacerbated when the Biden administration unilaterally dropped sanctions from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. And while Europe and the US remain sympathetic with the Kremlin critics, large economies like Germany have clarified their economic position by striking lucrative deals amid political pressure. It is apparent that while Europe is conflicted after Brexit, even the US faces much more pressing issues in the guise of China and Afghanistan. Thus, no active international defiance has all but bolstered the Kremlin in its drive to gain foreign investments.

Another factor at work is the overly hawkish Russian Central Bank (RCB). To tame inflation – currency raging at an annual rate of 6.7% – the RCB hiked its policy rate to 6.75% from the all-time low of 4.25%. The RCB has raised its policy rate by a cumulative 250 basis points in four consecutive hikes since January which has all but attracted the investors to jump on the bandwagon. However, inflation is proving to be sturdy in the face of intermittent rate hikes. And while Russian productivity is enjoying a smooth run, failure of monetary policy tools could just as easily backfire.

While political dissent or international sanctions remain futile, inflation is the prime enemy which could detract the Russian economy. For years Russia has faced a sharp decline in living standards, and despite commendable fiscal management of the Kremlin, such a steep rise in prices is an omen of a financial crisis. Moreover, the unemployment rates have dropped to record low levels. However, the labor shortage is emerging as another facet that could plausibly ignite the wage-price spiral. Further exacerbating the threat of inflation are the $9.6 billion pre-election giveaways orchestrated by President Putin to garner more support for his United Russia party. Such a tremendous demand pressure could presumably neutralize the aggressive tightening of the monetary policy by the RCB. Thus, while President Putin sure is on a definitive path of immortality on the throne of the Kremlin, surging inflation could mark a return of uncertainty, chip away investors’ confidence: eventually putting a brake on the economic streak.

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