Total inflows may drop for the first time in Modi era in FY19; chemicals attract highest FDI, beating services
Months before India’s new double taxation avoidance agreements with them are to kick in fully, Singapore has beaten Mauritius to emerge as New Delhi’s largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI). FDI in equity from Singapore jumped 41% in the April-December period to almost $13 billion, while that from Mauritius dropped 55% from a year before to just $6 billion, showed the latest official data.
India’s total FDI inflows into equity — which had shot up by 23% in the first quarter — lost pace subsequently and dropped 7% to $33.5 billion between April and December 2018. The inflows are poised to record a fall in FY19 — the first such annual decline during the current NDA regime—unless the last quarter records a massive rebound.
Interestingly, at $6.06 billion, FDI inflows into chemicals (excluding fertilisers) in the first three quarters of this fiscal exceeded those into bigger sectors like financial and other services ($5.92 billion), computer software and hardware ($4.75 billion), telecommunications ($2.29 billion), trading ($2.34 billion) and automobiles ($1.81 billion). The chemicals sector had attracted just $1.3 billion in the entire 2017-18 fiscal.
As for the destinations of FDI, India had tweaked its 33-year old tax treaty with Mauritius in May 2016 and revised it with Singapore in December that year to plug loopholes exploited by companies in tax havens to avoid legitimate taxes.
These pacts are to come into effect fully from April 2019 after a two-year transitional phase during which capital gains on the transfer of Indian shares acquired since April 2017 are being taxed at 50% of the domestic rate. After April 1, 2019, full domestic capital gains tax will apply.
With the advantage of a tax haven set to go fully now, inflows from Mauritius have faltered. However, since Singapore has a robust and fairly transparent financial system with easier access to funds at low costs, many foreign companies with interest in India continue to be inclined to invest via Singapore rather than Mauritius, said analysts.
Although Singapore had also surpassed Mauritius as the biggest source of FDI into India in 2015-16 (only to cede the top slot the very next year), the gap in their investments was never as stark as in 2018-19.
Already, the share of Mauritius in cumulative FDI inflows into India since April 2000 has eroded gradually over the years from as much as 42% as of March 2011 to 32% by December 2018, while that of Singapore jumped from 9% to 19% during this period.
A decline in overall FDI inflows this fiscal could weigh on the rupee, although a fall in oil prices in recent months has eased pressure on trade balance, the largest component of the country’s current account.
Already, current account deficit worsened to 2.9% of GDP in the July-September period of this fiscal from 2.4% in the previous quarter.