Trade winds: Exports falter under Modi government’s watch, but value-added segments do well

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New Delhi | Updated: April 23, 2019 6:49:29 AM

Some of the segments among the ones that record decent value-addition levels (15-40%) seem to be contributing more to the overall export basket in recent years.

export, import, india economy, us economy, us, donald trumpDespite subdued exports, merchandise trade deficit didn’t spiral, partly due to low oil prices, even though massive electronic imports weighed on trade balance.

Merchandise exports may have hit a record $331 billion in FY19 but that is hardly any consolation for the current government, as outbound shipment grew at an average of only 1.4% since FY15, against 12.3% in the previous five years. The share of goods exports in the country’s nominal GDP, too, dropped to an average of 12.6% in the NDA’s five years from 15.7% during the UPA-II period (2009-14).

However, some of the segments among the ones that record decent value-addition levels (15-40%) seem to be contributing more to the overall export basket in recent years. Shipments of engineering goods — from steel to shipping — , chemicals and related products like pharmaceuticals and textiles & garments made up for a sizable 48% (average) of total goods exports in the past five years, against 40% during the UPA-II. The average value addition in engineering goods, the biggest export segment accounting for almost a quarter of total merchandise exports, is around 30-35%, according to an estimate by the Engineering Export Promotion Council of India.

For its part, the NDA faced a tougher external environment, as growth in global merchandise export value slowed to a meagre 1% in the last five years, against 4.4% during the UPA-II regime, according to the WTO data. A global trade war involving the US and China has weighed on trade prospects, particularly since last year, and threatened to disrupt growth momentum, going further.

The Trump administration’s announcement to withdraw duty-free benefits on annual Indian exports worth $5.6 billion from May, too, is a dampener, although its impact will be felt from this fiscal. Subdued global commodity price movement in initial years of the current regime, too, dented export value, even though anecdotal evidence suggests shipment volume didn’t falter as much.

Despite subdued exports, merchandise trade deficit didn’t spiral, partly due to low oil prices, even though massive electronic imports weighed on trade balance. At $148 billion, the average annual trade deficit during the UPA-II period was higher than $140 billion in the last five years. Although oil prices, which contributed immensely to the trade imbalance during the UPA period, remained somewhat benign, massive electronics imports served to inflate the deficit in recent years, along with oil. Electronics items, which made up for almost 8% of the overall imports in FY14, ballooned to 11% in FY19.

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In contrast, the share of petroleum products in the overall goods imports eased to around 28% in FY19 from almost 37% in FY14, thanks to low oil prices.

Ajay Sahai, director general of Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said value-addition level is going up in recent years, supported by higher skilling. “Within the chemical segment, pharmaceuticals exports have been doing well, while in the engineering goods segment, automobiles and auto components have witnessed higher exports,” he added.

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