Dip in exports and imports narrowed the trade deficit -- the difference between imports and exports -- in March to USD 9.76 billion, the lowest in the last 13 months.
India’s exports plunged by a record 34.57 per cent in March due to a steep decline in shipments of leather, gems and jewellery and petroleum products, dragging the total exports in 2019-20 down to USD 314.31 billion, official data showed on Wednesday. Merchandise exports in March stood at USD 21.41 billion, down by 34,57 per cent compared to USD 32.72 billion in the same month last year. This is expected to be the steepest fall in monthly exports since 2008-09, when shipments dipped by 33.3 per cent in March 2009. Imports too contracted by 28.72 per cent to USD 31.16 billion.
This is the steepest decline since November 2015, when imports declined by 30.26 per cent. Dip in exports and imports narrowed the trade deficit — the difference between imports and exports — in March to USD 9.76 billion, the lowest in the last 13 months. It was USD 9.6 billion in February last year. Oil and gold imports contracted by 15 per cent and 62.64 per cent to USD 10 billion and USD 1.22 billion, respectively in March 2019.
For the full fiscal (2019-20), imports declined by 9.12 per cent to USD 467.19 billion, narrowing the trade deficit to USD 152.88 billion as against USD 184 billion in 2018-19. “The decline in exports has been mainly due to the ongoing global slowdown, which got aggravated due to the current Covid-19 crisis. The latter resulted in large scale disruptions in supply chains and demand resulting in cancellation of orders,” the commerce ministry said in a statement.
Commenting on the data, Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President Sharad Kumar Saraf said that the trade data is on the expected lines as exporters were not able to ship goods during the second half of March due to the lockdown, cancellations and delay of shipments and orders. “Spread of Covid-19 across the globe has not only pulled down the world sentiment to its lowest but has also affected the global supply chain and brought economies in recessionary condition,” he said. During the first quarter of 2020-21, the sector will see a similar trend, he added.
However, he hoped that from the second quarter of this fiscal, exports may start showing nominal growth depending on the condition evolving in the international market. He added that 29 out of the 30 major product groups were in negative territory during March except for iron-ore.
During the full fiscal, the sectors which recorded negative growth include petroleum (8.10 per cent), handicrafts (2.36 per cent), cotton yarn/fabrics (10.67 per cent), engineering (5.87 per cent), gems and jewellery (11 per cent) and leather (9.64 per cent). Tea, coffee, rice, tobacco and cashew sectors too recorded negative growth in 2019-20.
Since 2011-12, India’s exports have been hovering at around USD 300 billion. During 2017-18, the overseas shipments grew by about 10 per cent to USD 303 billion and further to USD 330.08 billion in 2018-19.
The dip in numbers are in sync with the projections of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has stated that world trade is expected to fall between 13 per cent and 32 per cent in 2020 as the COVID 19 pandemic disrupts normal economic activity and life around the world.
Import sectors which registered negative growth during 2019-20 include gold, silver, electronic goods, transport equipment, machine tools, iron and steel, coal, petroleum and chemicals. Data showed that oil imports in April-March 2019-20 dipped by 8.15 per cent to USD 129.43 billion, while non-oil imports were down by 9.49 per cent to USD 337.76 billion during that fiscal. According to the RBI data, services exports in February were USD 17.73 billion, registering a positive growth of 6.88 per cent. Imports were USD 11.07 billion, an increase of 12.82 per cent.