By Dr. Nilanjan Banik
2022 was a good ‘growth’ year for India. India’s economy was among the fastest growing large economies. This was commendable, especially in a year marred by war and extreme climate events, rising commodity and energy prices, tightening global monetary policy, and slower global economic growth. India is poised to grow at 6.9 per cent in 2023, as per the estimate by World Bank. However, India’s Achilles heel is its burgeoning current account deficit (CAD), falling value of the Indian rupee, falling industrial growth and high domestic inflation numbers. Let’s first examine the negatives, and then the positives, as we go into the New Year.
During the second quarter of this fiscal, India’s CAD widened to $23.9 billion, the highest since 2012. Rupee touched a record low of 83.07 against the dollar in October 2022. Retail inflation hovered at over 7 per cent (against the upper tolerance limit of 6 per cent) for most part of this year. A bulk of India’s exports, for example, refined petroleum products, pearls, precious stones and chemicals are not picking up. Weak global demand implies a lower demand for these income-sensitive items.
A strong Indian economy demands more energy and fossil fuels, most of which are imported. As imports continued to grow, without a commensurate increase in exports, the rupee depreciated. A depreciating rupee also leads to domestic inflation, as the ‘imported’ commodity and energy prices which are used for domestic manufacturing and services become costly.
It will be difficult to sustain a GDP growth of 6.9 per cent without ensuring healthy domestic demand. For instance, in November India’s industrial production shrank 4 per cent from a year earlier in October 2022, the steepest pace of contraction since August 2020. Real wage growth in the agriculture and construction sectors is stagnating. This is a cause of concern as marginal propensity to consume for lower-income groups is higher in comparison to the upper 10th percentile of population. Most of the consumption for the rich and wealthy are on imported merchandise and services items which do not contribute to domestic demand. Lack of domestic demand coupled with higher energy and input price will send a negative signal to the manufacturers against possible capacity expansion. Government should find ways through programmes such as MGNREGA to boost domestic demand.
However, it must be said that the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are making coordinated efforts to make exports competitive, lower domestic inflation, and arrest a fall in the rupee value.
To reduce dependence on foreign imports and increase export competitiveness, the GoI launched programmes such as the National Manufacturing Policy in 2011.Additionally, several policies; such as the Focus Market Scheme (FMS) and Production Linked Incentives (PLI) were launched. The PLI scheme was meant for increasing competitiveness of 14 items under manufacturing sectors such as pharmaceuticals engineering, and electronics.
To lower trade and logistics costs related to the movement of goods, the Centre increased outlay on capital expenditure from Rs 5.54 lakh crore in 2021-22, to Rs 7.50 lakh crore in 2022-23. Such allocation of funds is expected to provide impetus to the Gati Shakti project, a plan to improve multimodal connectivity.
Some positive results are emerging so far India’s exports are concerned. In the case of high-value-added pharmaceutical exports such as formulation and vaccines, India is performing well because of FDI and government’s support in the form of various schemes such as FMS and PLI. Foreign smartphone manufacturers are showing interest to invest in India. Export of electrical and telecom equipments are showing an uptick.
In the short run, policymakers undertook a few micro measures to reduce the widening CAD. For instance, India is buying oil from Russia. The share of Russian mineral fuel imports in India’s trade basket went up from 1 per cent in February 2022 to 22 per cent by November 2022. On September 9, 2022, India banned export of 100 per cent broken rice, an input for producing ethanol, an alternative source of fuel. India increased customs tariffs on gold imports from 7.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent. Gold is another item responsible for increasing trade deficit.
The rupee has also fallen on account of monetary tightening in the US. Since March 2022, the US Federal Reserve has raised interest rates by 350 basis points. A hawkish policy stance has led to a rise in returns of the US treasury security. The yield on two-year US treasury security increased from 1.56 per cent on August 1, 2020, to 4.50 per cent on December 9, 2022. This has led to outflow of capital from the Indian economy, pulling down the rupee. Since March 2022, this year, RBI increased the policy rates by 225 basis points.
In addition to raising the repo rates, the RBI took a few other policy measures. For example, RBI giving permission to commercial banks to open Foreign Currency Non-Resident (FCNR) accounts (held in foreign currency) and Non-Resident External (NRE) deposits from Indians residing outside India without any cap on interest rates. This is likely to increase deposits of foreign currencies. RBI is also contemplating about listing Indian government bonds in the JP Morgan Emerging Markets Government Bond Index and FTSE Emerging Markets Government Bond Index. This when done, will ease the inflow of foreign currency, improving foreign exchange reserves and curtailing a fall in the value of the rupee.
The combination of fiscal and monetary policy initiatives has begun to show results. Foreign exchange reserves increased from $528.37 billion in October 2022, to $564.07 billion in December 2022.
Net foreign direct investment rose to $22.7 billion in April-October 2022 up from $21.3 billion during the corresponding period last year. Foreign portfolio investment contributed to inflow of $11.8 billion between June and early December, reversing negative trends of the past. Although the rupee has depreciated up to 9.8 per cent this calendar year, it was less when compared to other developed countries in the EU regions, Japan, and South Korea, where exchange rates depreciated in excess of 15 per cent. Remittances from abroad also started looking good, estimated to reach $100 billion in 2022, up from $81 billion in 2021.
According to the World Bank data, there is a structural shift in remittances from largely low-skilled workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries to remittances from high-skilled workers in the UK, US, Australia, and Singapore. Only events, such as another war in the Asia Pacific region, or a newer fatal variation of COVID hitting the world, can derail India’s growth process.
Make in India, Atmanirbhar Bharat and PLI schemes will take time to make exports competitive. Meanwhile, Indian negotiators should find ways to deal with extra-trade provisions such as labour, environment, IPRs etc., which are increasingly hurting access to India’s exports in the developed markets. (IPA Service)
The writer is Professor, School of Management, Mahindra University