India talking

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Jan 29 2008, 04:46am hrs
Fortune favours the bold. In the case of the US business magazine by that title, the bold happen to be American consumers. Their consumption preferences seem to be shifting from products made in China to those made in India, according to a survey carried out by the publication. This does not imply that Indian exporters can take over Chinese export markets with immediate effectit was only an opinion surveyor anytime soon, though it does mean that India has an exploitable opportunity in the traces of Sinophobia that are showing up in America. The survey report does not put an overt political spin on the findings. Instead, it prefers to highlight last years cases of Chinese-made product recalls as the prime cause for purchase aversion. The most shocking of these cases was Mattels lead-laced toys that made parents recoil in horror at the prospect of being slow-poisoned from across the oceans. Toys being in much wider use than vermillionan Indian brand of which was slammed for its dangerously high lead content tooChina has suffered much greater reputation damage as an exporter. America has few peers when it comes to disproportionate responses, and last years commentators who saw in this an opportunistic role for Indian exports have been proven right by the finding that a majority of survey respondents would be unaffected in their purchase preferences if a similar quality problem were to taint Indian made products. This generosity needs to be capitalised upon.

But before Indian exporters boldly venture where no rival of China has gone before, a prudential plan must be chalked out to safeguard India from the risks of reputation loss on account of shoddy quality. The logic that Americans seem to be buying in the India-versus-China stakes is that a democracy makes safer products because it has institutional mechanisms that accord respect to human life conditions. This is a good sales pitch, and marketers of the India label would do well to maximise its appeal in the worlds largest consumer market. But back home, we must not succumb to our own blandishments. If our democracy is to be more than a ballot-casting ritual, then the rhetoric on our concern for human conditions and public safety must be supported by genuine action and application of lawas a given, not a patchwork.