India’s lamented & lacklustre export record can change; this sector may hold the key

India has a lamented and lacklustre export record; how to attempt a change.

service sector, goods and services, exports from India, India, RBI, RBI data, opinion
In 2017, the world merchandise trade (the average of exports and imports) registered strongest growth in six years, by 11% in value terms.

Do you recall the 2015 midterm FTP review aiming at $900 billion of goods and services exports from India, to garner 3.5% share of world exports by 2020? That target appears to be a mirage. After a brief interregnum of stagnant exports, India registered just 10% growth in 2017-18, to $302.8 billion, against expectations of $325 billion, and also a 45% jump in trade deficit at $157 billion, the highest in last five years. As RBI data reveals, the country’s merchandise exports, having peaked at 17% of GDP in 2013-14, dropped to around 12% in 2016-17. India has underperformed even amidst robust global trade growth.

In 2017, the world merchandise trade (the average of exports and imports) registered strongest growth in six years, by 11% in value terms. Global merchandise exports include more than 70% share of manufactured goods, which rose from $16.03 trillion in 2016 to $17.73 trillion in 2017, over 80% of it emanating from top-10 exporting countries—China commanded 12.8% share ($2,263 billion), followed by the US with 8.7% share ($1,547 billion), Germany (8.2% share; $1,448 billion), Japan (3.9%; $698 billion), and then the Netherlands, South Korea, Hong Kong, France, Italy and the UK.

India’s share was just 1.7%, at $298 billion. Sixty years ago, India’s share in world exports was higher than China’s; by 2013, its exports fell to less than 15% of China’s. Historically, world merchandise trade volumes have grown 1.5 times faster than world real GDP at market exchange rates—they rose more than twice in the 1990s. Asia recorded the highest increase in trade value with growth of 8.1% in 2017, also the highest growth in volume (6.7% for exports and 9.6% imports). Growth in developing economies was strongest; imports in developed economies too strengthened in H2-2017 to 4.3% versus 2.3% in H1-2017.

World exports can broadly be put in five categories: (1) energy and resource-intensive goods such as fuels and mining products, iron and steel, paper, etc, aggregating about 30% of total global exports; (2) sunrise industrial goods largely in the electronics and telecom sectors, accounting for 25%; (3) automotive products, machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc, another 25%; (4) agricultural products, 10%; and (5) labour-intensive tradeables such as textiles, clothing, leather goods, and miscellaneous manufactures, another 10%. Indian export basket includes around 60% of manufactured goods (in addition to petroleum, oil and lubricants products, agricultural and allied products, and others), within which there has been a shift from labour-intensive categories such as textiles and leather to engineering products—iron & steel, auto parts, capital goods.

India has remained a peripheral player in industrial sectors that command a lion’s share in global trade, and its export thrust is confined largely to sectors that account for less than one-fourth of global exports. Globally, agricultural products exports in 2017 comprised of processed products (chocolate, processed coffee; 44% share), semi-processed products (oilseed cake, vegetable oils; 27% share), primary bulk products (wheat, coffee beans; 16% share), and horticulture products (13% share).

Among the top-10 exporters of agri-products, accounting for three-fourths of total world exports in this sector, India is at the ninth spot ($39 billion), behind the EU ($647 billion), the US ($170 billion), Brazil ($88 billion), China ($79 billion), Canada ($67 billion), Indonesia ($49 billion), Thailand ($43 billion) and Australia ($40 billion).

The top-10 exporters of automotive products accounted for 95% share of world exports in 2017 in this segment. With an export amount of $738 billion, the EU was at the top, followed by Japan ($150 billion), the US ($135 billion), Mexico ($109 billion), South Korea ($64 billion), Canada ($63 billion), China ($54 billion), Thailand ($29 billion), Turkey ($24 billion) and Brazil ($15 billion). Whereas Brazil recorded a 32% increase, and Turkey 22%, India dropped from 10th position to 11th.

Around half of world trade now happens through global value chains. As much as 48% of exports of developing economies in value-added terms involve global value chains (OECD-WTO). The EU carmakers, especially German companies, have relocated some steps in the automotive production process to East Europe, whose value added in EU exports of motor vehicles increased from 3% in 2000 to 7.5% in 2014.

Non-EU economies contribute more and more to production and exports of EU motor vehicles, and their value-added share in EU automotive exports increased from 14.8% in 2000 to 21.8% in 2014; the share of China alone rose from 0.5% to 2%. In the office and telecom products, China (exports of $592 billion) topped the top-10 exporters, followed by the EU ($359 billion), Hong Kong ($281 billion), the US ($145 billion), South Korea ($136 billion), Singapore ($121 billion), Taiwan ($119 billion), Mexico ($67 billion), Malaysia ($66 billion) and Vietnam ($66 billion). With $972 billion worth of exports in 2017, the EU accounted for 49% of world chemical products exports, followed by the US ($206 billion; 10%) and China ($142 billion; 7%). India’s exports of $41 billion trailed behind Switzerland’s ($100 billion), Japan’s ($71 billion), South Korea’s ($70 billion) and Singapore’s ($50 billion). Representing almost 85% share of 2017 world iron and steel exports, the top-10 exporters included the EU at $156 billion (38% market share), China ($56 billion), Japan ($29 billion), South Korea ($26 billion), Russia ($20 billion), the US ($16 billion), India ($14 billion), Brazil ($11 billion), Taiwan ($11 billion) and Turkey ($10 billion).

India had only a 3.4% share, although it recorded highest growth (69%), ahead of Russia (39%) and Brazil (37%); China registered just 1% growth rate. Notwithstanding India being reckoned as the third top exporter of textiles in 2017 at $17 billion (5.8% of world textile exports), it lagged far behind the top-two exporters: China at $110 billion (37.1% of world exports), and the EU at $69 billion (23.4%).

The similar is the story of clothing exports—while India ($18 billion; 4.1% share in 2017) was fifth among top-10 world clothing exporters, China was way ahead ($158 billion; 34.9% share), ahead of the EU ($130 billion; 28.6%). India trailed far behind Bangladesh ($29 billion; 6.5%) and Vietnam ($27 billion; 5.9%). India’s textiles and apparel exports grew from $30 billion in 2011 to $34 billion in 2016, while those of Vietnam jumped from $20 billion to $32 billion, and Bangladesh’s from $19 billion to $28 billion.

With $187 billion, the EU is the largest clothing importer (38.5% share), followed by the US ($88 billion; 18.2%) and Japan ($28 billion; 5.8%). The aggregate export growth in labour-intensive sectors—textiles, leather, gems and jewellery, electronics and agricultural products—has remained anaemic. The share of leather sector in India’s exports dropped from 7.1% in FY92 to 4.4% in FY02 and 1.9% in FY17; of textiles and readymade garments from 26.3% in FY92 to 23.3% in FY02 and 12.3% in FY17.

The petroleum, oil and lubricants products’ share rose from 2.3% in FY92 to 11.4% in FY17; and of engineering goods doubled (from 12.5% in FY92 to 23% in FY17). The services sector may play to India’s strength. Its services exports, having risen from 30% to 40% during 2003-08, have plateaued. Even after Make-in-India, the services sector has been an attractive FDI destination, drawing 61% of total FDI inflows in the last fiscal. The CSO’s provisional estimates with regards to gross value added in 2016-17 indicate a year-on-year 7.74% growth of the services sector, at Rs 21.43 trillion ($333 billion). Contributing almost 55% of gross value addition to the country’s economy, the services sector—logistics, hospitality, insurance, financing, communication, personal, business, social services, real estate and construction—is a key driver of India’s economic growth.

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