"It is only one product group which has contributed to (slower growth in exports) and that is petroleum products. There has been an unplanned maintenance shutdown in one of our largest exporters of the country - Reliance Industries," Commerce Secretary S R Rao said today.
However, a 15.25 per cent decline in imports to USD 36.4 billion, particularly in gold and silver shipments, helped to narrow the trade deficit to USD 10.1 billion in December. In November, the trade gap was USD 9.21 billion.
Inward shipments of gold and silver dipped 68.8 per cent to USD 1.77 billion from USD 5.6 billion in December last year, although they were higher than USD 1.05 billion in November.
Oil imports grew 1.1 per cent to USD 13.89 billion during the month.
Rao said that barring petroleum products, all other sectors such as engineering, textiles and chemicals have shown reasonable healthy growth.
Commenting on the figures, Rafeeq Ahmed, President of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said efforts are required to keep export growth in double-digits.
During April-December, exports aggregated USD 230.3 billion and imports USD 340.3 billion, while the trade deficit was about USD 110 billion.
"We are not happy with a modest growth of 3.49 per cent in exports in December," Ahmed said.
Gold and silver imports in the April-December period declined 30.3 per cent to USD 27.3 billion from USD 39.2 billion a year earlier. The government and the Reserve Bank of India had taken steps last year to curb gold imports in a bid to contain the current account deficit.
Oil imports in the nine-month period grew 2.6 per cent to USD 124.95 billion, while non-oil imports dipped 11.1 per cent to USD 215.42 billion.
Export sectors that registered positive growth in December include engineering (15 per cent), readymade garments (17.39 per cent), chemicals (8.75 per cent), cotton yarn and fabrics (1.42 per cent), rice (9.72 per cent) and plastics (21 per cent).
Director General of Foreign Trade Anup Pujari said petroleum exports contracted 16 per cent year-on-year to USD 4.8 billion. Engineering shipments were USD 5.5 billion.
In the second quarter of this financial year, Reliance's total exports of refined products reached USD 11.1 billion and accounted for 67 per cent of its aggregate refinery product volumes.
Commerce Secretary Rao expressed confidence that India would achieve the export target of USD 325 billion for the current financial year.
"We are well on the track of the exports target," he said.
Trade deficit widened in December
(Reuters) India's trade deficit widened in December on slowing export growth which could pose pressure on the country's fragile current account balance. The country's exports in December increased 3.49 per cent to USD 26.35 billion
Imports continued to fall, driven by curbs on gold, the country's second most expensive overseas purchase after oil. India's gold and silver imports at $1.77 billion in December vs $5.6 billion a year earlier.
The trade deficit stood at $10.14 billion compared with $9.22 billion in November, a trade ministry official said on Friday.
Merchandise exports rose 3.49 per cent year-on-year to $26.35 billion, slowing down from a 5.86 per cent pace in November.
Imports fell 15.25 percent year-on-year to $36.49 billion led by a 68.83 percent year on year drop in gold and silver imports.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram has said he expects a current account deficit of less than $50 billion, compared with earlier estimates of $70 billion in the fiscal year ending March.
The shortfall was a record $87.8 billion in the previous 12-month period which had precipitated a record fall in the value of the rupee against the dollar last summer.