India’s exports performance good despite global headwinds; but here’s why Suresh Prabhu isn’t happy

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December 26, 2018 11:47 AM

India is preparing a specific strategy for exports to each geography as part of plans to make 2019 a year when outward shipments would start driving the country's overall economic growth, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu has said.

Representative Image: Reuters

India is preparing a specific strategy for exports to each geography as part of plans to make 2019 a year when outward shipments would start driving the country’s overall economic growth, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu has said. The minister said India’s exports performance has been “extremely good” in the past 14 months, but he is not fully satisfied as yet and the plans for 2019 also include a special focus on boosting shipments to the African continent and Latin America given huge growth potential there. He said the Indian exports are growing at a time when the global trade is witnessing worst ever headwinds, countries are fighting at import duty front and there is increasing protectionism and slowdown in demand.

“(But) I am not fully satisfied. I want exports to drive India’s growth. To do that, the situation is very challenging as each country is trying to put their own borders,” Prabhu told PTI in an interview.

Since 2011-12, India’s exports have been hovering at around USD 300 billion. During 2017-18, the shipments grew by about 10 per cent to USD 303 billion. Experts have cautioned that growing trade tensions between the US and China could impact the global trade growth. Imposition of high import duties by the US this year on certain steel and aluminium products have triggered a trade war kind of situation.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) too has stated that escalating trade tensions and tighter credit market conditions in important markets will slow trade growth in 2019. “In 2019, we would like to ensure that all measures that we initiated earlier and the new measures get consolidated and 2019 should be a new year for exports. So I am preparing a strategy. For each of the geographies, we will prepare a specific strategy,” Prabhu said.

Elaborating on his plans, the minister said African continent holds huge potential for domestic exporters and there is a need to significantly boost shipments to that region. Prabhu said his ministry is in process of creating a template for some kind of a free trade agreement with Africa which will take into account the overall difference of level of growth of that continent and the country specific profiles.

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Similar plans are there for other regions as well, including for Latin America, he said. Central America, South East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia hold huge potential for domestic exporters, but “our performance is at sub-optimal level” in these regions, he added. Emphasised on the need to promote value added exports, Prabhu said his ministry is trying to bring Japanese and Korean companies on board to increase outbound shipments of marine products. He also hoped that the recently announced agri-export policy will help boost exports from the sector to USD 60 billion in the next five years and USD 100 billion in the next 10 years.

“This is doable because we are the largest producers of milk and the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables,” he said. The ministry would be drawing a strategy to promote shipments of five categories — plantation crops, meat, fisheries, agriculture and horticulture, he added. For this, the minister will be meeting all plantation boards, farmers associations and organisations and discuss issues related to every segment.

“We are asking states for product-specific clusters. For example, in Jalgaon (Maharashtra) we are promoting cluster for bananas, and for grapes in Nashik,” he said. The ministry is also preparing an incentive package for labour-intensive sectors like leather to address issues faced by exporters.

“We are preparing a package which will ensure that exporters’ woes are addressed properly. There have been challenges for the export sector over a period of time and one big challenge is credit,” he said. The ministry is also looking at the quality of goods being exported by India as foreign firms are keeping a special tab on this. Further, Prabhu said as India is one of the major exporter of services like IT and ITeS, the ministry’s strategy will have elements to promote services exports also.

The government has approved an action plan for 12 champion services sectors, including IT, tourism and hospitality, for realising their potential through the establishment of a Rs 5,000 crore dedicated fund.  Commenting on the growth prospects next year, exporters said the government needs to focus on areas like a timely refund of Goods and Services tax; adequate availability of affordable credit; extending export duty benefits to more areas like seeds; and interest subsidy to merchant exporters.

“If the government will take all these steps in the coming months, we can register 20 per cent growth in exports,” the Federation of Indian Exports Organisation (FIEO) President Ganesh Kumar Gupta said. Promoting exports helps a country to create jobs, boost manufacturing and earn more foreign exchange.

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