Intro: This week on Socio-economic Voices at Indiastat, we have Sankhanath Bandhopadhyay, Economist, Infomerics Ratings, speaking to senior journalist Mahima Sharma about the future of Indian economy and its burgeoning prospects in the domestic and international scenario, despite the global economic meltdown. Mr. Bandhopadhyay not only does a statistics-based deep analysis of India's global positioning in various sectors, dissects its various issues with implementation of policies, but also talks about how India can deal with its age-old problem - poverty. Take a read of this in-depth interaction, an EXCLUSIVE at Indiastat.
MS: What's your take on the vision of the UK's Secretary of State for International Trade - "UK free trade deal will be good to businesses and consumers in both countries." And what steps India must take to utilize its full potential?
SB: There are certain takeaways from Kemi Badenoch, the Secretary of State for International Trade of UK, as UK has set an ambitious target to double the value of India-UK trade by 2030, with an emphasis on greater market access for both the countries, expecting high quality goods with low/no environmental impact. According to the UK India Business Council, 61% of respondents have expressed that doing businesses in India is easier as well as are positive about the ongoing India-UK FTA. The UK will be eyeing to gain Indian market access for electrical equipment, motor vehicles and parts, Scotch, wines, spirits, fruits and vegetables, chemicals, medical devices, transport equipment etc; while India is looking to enhance exports of textiles, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, leather and footwear and agricultural items. ICT and digital services are also likely to thrive. A DIT modeling suggests that UK exports to India could increase by around £8.8 billion -£16.7 billion in 2035. UK imports from India could increase by around £5.2 billion- £10.9 billion in 2035.
Now let me answer your second question: It is likely that discussions would include patent regime for pharmaceutical companies, work visas, import duty reduction on automobiles and scotch besides a separate chapter on financial services. It is to be seen how the issue of the import duty reduction is dealt with, since though the UK has few car factories in India, domestic manufacturers fear a sharp reduction in import duty might open a negotiation space for other countries including Japan, EU, South Korea among others. Nevertheless, a 30% import duty reduction is likely initially. According to the Federation of Automobile Association (FADA), the recent RBI repo rate hike will lead to a higher cost of borrowing apart from the price hikes done by OEMs and may dent the consumer confidence especially in 2W and entry level PV segment. The SIAM has also highlighted that as the GoI is insisting Industry to localize the Cell of the battery of the Electric Vehicles (EVs), relaxing imports of completely built cars, including components like tyres, Seats, etc. may not be justified. However, discussions on such aspects will take some time, as both the countries want to secure quality of provisions. A negotiation point for India is to expand Indian exports of refined petroleum products to the UK, as according to the UK Office of National Statistics, petroleum products dominated Indian exports in the UK. Further, as the UK would be keen in reducing import tariffs to gain market access to India, India must strategically assess to enhance exports of products to the US, where it has competitive advantages, taking further advantages opened by the imposition of sanctions on Russia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
MS: India remains an attractive market for the long term; a US recession is a low risk. What's your analysis on this angle of the current state of the Indian economy?
SB: The Indian economy remains stable for a reasonably longer period due to its relatively better macroeconomic parameters. According to the World Bank Report (6 December 2022), titled as "Navigating the Storm" the Indian economy is relatively well positioned to weather global spillovers compared to most other emerging markets. Despite globally elevated commodity prices, central bank tightening and other challenges, the report highlighted that the Indian economy would remain one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, due to robust domestic demand. The World Bank has revised its 2022-23 GDP forecast upward to 6.9 percent from 6.5 percent (in October 2022), considering a strong outturn in India in the second quarter (July-September) of the 2022-2023 financial year. Further, according to a ETBFSI news, only India is the country where the FPI inflows remain positive during December 2022 (Rs. 10,555 cr) in the equity segment, whereas other emerging markets (EMs) like Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia have seen negative FPI flows in December 2022.
Further, CPI inflation has also declined to 5.88% in Nov'22 as compared to 6.77% in Oct'22. This large decline is due to the arrival of winter vegetables. Core CPI, on the other hand increased marginally to 6.01% due to increase in transport and communication CPI. For the last six months core CPI is sticky around 6%.
Another positive is that bank credit has seen a robust growth by 17.5 per cent year-on-year (YoY) to Rs. 131.06 trillion in the fortnight ended 2nd December 2022.
MS: As India assumes the G20 presidency, it has the opportunity to further the cause of mutually beneficial, rules-based international trade at a time when the world is facing a series of multiple and overlapping political and economic crises. What are the key steps that India must take to take full advantage of the same to bring the benefits to the masses as well as the economy, so that a positive impact is felt for a longer time?
SB: Almost around 80 per cent of the global trade is accounted for by the G20, whereas according to the IMF's 2022 projected GDP growth for India is 6.8%. India has a tremendous potential in expanding its trade in G20 countries, especially exports in a strategic move taking advantage of the sanctions imposed on Russia and a bit of a laggard economy of China. The prospects for the expansion of exports are immense to scale up from USD 212 billion in 2021-2022 to the level of USD 500 billion by 2030.
A PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry Report has identified 75 products which currently contribute USD 175 billion (around 40%) in India's total exports, whereas globally total imports of these products comprise more than USD 3700 billion. As India's presence in these products is less than 5% as total world imports, and as India's 50% of exports are towards the G20 countries, there is huge potential to increase India's exports in such products towards G20 countries. Further integration with G20 will scale up the current value of total Exports at USD 212 billion in 2021-2022 to the level of USD 300 billion by 2024-2025 and USD 500 billion by 2029-2030.
India needs more skilled manpower (for which we need targeted training from industry experts) to strengthen its relatively weaker manufacturing base. This will take a longer time, but can be achievable. A crucial aspect is India needs to provide a holistic support including surplus labor base in sectors/industries where it has competitive advantage, e.g. textiles, engineering goods, electronic products among others.
MS: We have seen you often emphasize - "Realizing right policy, and implementation- both are crucial, should be time-bound." Can you throw light upon three key policies of India, how and why they need a better implementation etc? Plus how will these benefit the masses if done so?
SB: I want to emphasize here that sometimes policies are rightly designed with the aim of achieving a particular objective, but sometimes such policies may deviate from its intended objective. Couple of years ago, I wrote about Indian Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and I have differentiated its characteristics with Chinese SEZ. Now, we have to understand such issues a bit carefully. On the one hand, we have to identify whether we want to specialize more in the areas/sectors where we have competitive advantages. For instance, China is much ahead in manufacturing compared to India and even other countries due to its competitive advantage. However, that does not mean India should not try to strengthen its manufacturing base. But, for this, we have to very strategically formulate our policy and follow it. In China there are few very big SEZs, to exploit the benefits of Economies of Scale (EoS), and such SEZs are strategically located to ports to smooth out transportations and reduce costs thereof.
On the other hand, India has many SEZs, which may or may not be strategically located, for which such SEZs are unable to exploit the benefit of the EOS. Further, in many SEZs in Noida, a couple of years back many real estate activities flourished thus diluting the end objective of promoting exports. So, we need to ask questions like- How many SEZs do we effectively require? Whether such SEZs can exploit the EOS? Are they strategically located or there is further scope for reduction of transport and other costs? Whether they are achieving end objective(s)?
Besides this, my point is that a country should try to strengthen sectors/industries where it has competitive advantage(s). For instance, if one thinks that India’s textile sector has a competitive advantage and contributes to the export sector more, then please provide support system to such industries. India need not develop a manufacturing chip base facility like TSMC if we don't have that capacity. We cannot and need not be TSMC, so leave it, or take a gradual calibrated approach. Rather, focus on where we have strength and where we can grow.
Now, let us provide an example of a relatively successful example of the Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) was set up in 2014-15 under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW) to help regulate the price volatility of important agri-horticultural commodities like onion, potatoes and pulses were also added subsequently. Yes, we cannot do much on the volatility of global prices, however, we need to think holistically how the entire logistics and supply chain distribution system as well as the availability of stocks can be improved. We need to think on the modalities of how institutional entities at the level of government can effectively and directly communicate with the end crop producers/farmers, and to understand their requirements by avoiding mediators/middlemen etc.
Another crucial example about the right kind of policies is to simply turn off something on which somebody is not sure or unable to get complete clarity. For instance, when the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) happened, India was not impacted much simply as the then RBI Governor did not allow such complex financial products like CDO/securitized products to enter the Indian market. A country needs to mark an innovation simply as ‘bad’ (say like pollutants) and can impose tax on such (like how the GoI treats Crypto now) if the country is unable to avoid this due to global peer pressures. For instance, a question arises, when we can achieve digital payments/transactions via UPI and such other methods, why do we need the Central bank Digital Currency (CBDC)? We need to understand CBDC is an adoption by countries like India, as major developed countries globally are adopting it, and possibly a “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) factor might happen for developing countries like India.
On the other hand, the financial inclusion aspect of CBDC is most welcomed, especially with less developed economies (LDCs). So, the crucial point is that we need to make a careful cost-benefit analysis, and to convince ourselves whether the seemingly appearing benefits are exceeding the apparent costs or not.
MS: Agri-tech startups, AI advancements vs basic illiterate farmers in India who live hand-to-mouth. What kind of urgent changes does India need, to leverage the potential of latest tech fully and potentially, to curb farmer deaths and such tragic incidents? And what kind of policies must India implement to ensure the required changes?
SB: We can take help of the AI related data for flood monitoring (through Satellite Driven data). Further, can we explore weather derivatives to help farmers or agricultural laborers vulnerable to weather vagaries? There are some country experiences like in Canada, where weather derivatives were started to be used by farmers to manage weather related risk, especially in the higher crops like seed. Mexico had also launched weather derivatives witnessing the instrument’s pros and had also used weather indexes to reinsure crop insurance in the past. However, given the technicalities involved into this, we must be careful that it should not be manipulated by speculative businesses, instead government-type entities should regulate this to ensure that end-benefits should reach out to the vulnerable group.
I shall like to highlight some points made by Gargi Sarma, Industry Analyst @Global Launch Base. GIS and GPS-based agriculture with smart machinery can be used to optimize fertilizer and pesticide application; because they don't have to treat the entire field but simply treat certain regions. Drones can also be used to identify crop biomass, plant height, weed presence and water saturation in specific field regions. Blockchain apps can be used to secure the safety of their crops, avoid theft and fraud, manage the supply chain effectively and balance the food ecology. Smart irrigation can help farmers who are having difficulty supplying adequate water to all arable land owing to financial constraints.
Coming to the second part of your question, for the effective implementation such policies must be executed through credible local or other NGOs/developmental institutions and should not be outsourced to any profit-seeking private entities. The essence of NGOs led by youth is that they will make aware illiterate farmers the usage of such technologies. The government can incentivize them through financial support or via tax breaks or other modes, somewhat similar like PLI schemes etc.
Many farmers committed suicides for a variety of reasons, however a frequent reason is inability to repay borrowed funds. Sometimes they did not receive the revenue they were expecting. If such incidents had happened due to weather vagaries etc; then such issues can be addressed via technologies as discussed above, but socio-political issues can be better addressed if such farmers can be detached from local private money lenders/ brokers or any similar other agents and can be linked directly to government entities or government certified local NGOs as highlighted above.
MS: How do you see the stock market bulls raging? And what could be expected in the markets in 2023?
SB: As per the trend in past data, Domestic Institutional Investors (DIIs) keep the momentum when FIIs sell, and vice versa. On 16 Nov'22, FIIs sold around Rs. 386 crore in the equity market, whereas the DIIs bought Rs. 1437 crore. Again, on 25 Nov'22, FIIs have purchased Rs. 369 crore whereas DIIs have almost around Rs. 296 crore. During the entire month of December 2022 (until 16th Dec'22), the Foreign Portfolio Investors invested in the equity segment Rs. 10,555 crore on net basis. FIIs usually keep a bullish trend in EM markets, especially in India, however, they have started pulling up after the Fed has started hiking rates. But recently as US inflation shows a bit of a softening trend, Fed has also taken a relatively softer stance with a hike of lower magnitude, which has incentivized the FIIs to again turn back to the emerging markets including India. FIIs are broadly profit seeking and risk averse, whereas DIIs often tend to buy cheap and into averaging. Besides, we have seen many households, jobless individuals have taken entry in the Indian stock market post-Covid in order to increase their sources of income. This has further strengthened the bullish momentum in the Indian stock market.
Answering the second part of the question, 2023 would be volatile for FII flows since the momentum would depend on the global and Indian inflation trends and how the Central Banks (CBs) would take their stance on policy rate hiking. The trend of capital flows would depend on the trends of the dollar index. We also have to be watchful about the spread between US bond yields and Indian 10 year G-Sec yields. Though the US Fed has increased its benchmark rate by 50 bps in the latest meeting, still the hawkish stance persists, and it will continue to be prescient until the Fed will not achieve its 2% inflation target. We need to be watchful about leading macroeconomic parameters like oil price trend, dollar index, US bond yields, inflation, geopolitical developments, external balance among others.
MS: Infrastructure sector took a beating over the last three years. What potential does it hold in the next five years and how?
SB: The agency-wise allocation and expenditure in National Highways (NHs) have shown significant increase over the years. For instance, the expenditure by the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL) in 2021-2022 was Rs. 7,079 crore in the National Highways (NHs), increased from Rs. 6,568 crore in 2020-2021. In 2022-2023, it is Rs. 6,000 (up to 31 October 2022). A state-wise analysis shows that in 2022-23 (up to 31st October 2022), Andhra Pradesh remained the second highest (after Maharashtra) that has expended Rs. 1,028 crore in NH development, whereas the allocated amount in the same year is Rs. 1,827 crore. During the same year (up to 31 October 2022), Maharashtra has expended Rs. 2,580 crore on NHs, whereas the allocated amount is Rs. 3,725 crore.
In the airport segment, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and other Airport Developers have targeted capital outlay of approximately Rs. 98,000 crore in airport sector in the next five years for expansion and modification of existing terminals, new terminals and strengthening of runways, among other activities. While, it is likely that the GoI would further allocate substantial funds under infrastructure, and pull up capex, there are caveats as the sector faces many hurdles. The Government has put in place an institutional framework called Project Monitoring Group (PMG) to monitor infrastructure projects worth Rs 500 Crore and above. Some of the projects are delayed, inter-alia, due to issues like Land acquisition, Forest clearance, Utility shifting, right of way permission, Covid induced disruptions, Court cases, geopolitical issues like Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted availability of raw materials and supply chain etc. The cost escalation can accurately be determined only on completion of a project.
Nevertheless, the future of the Indian infrastructure seems promising. "The Prime Minister Gati Shakti Master Plan", which aims to reduce logistics costs in India to levels comparable to developed nations, has garnered international interest. India’s logistics sector is currently fragmented and unorganized, resulting in logistics costs that are as high as 14-15% of GDP. In comparison, developed nations such as Singapore and the US have kept their logistics costs below 7-8% of GDP. According to media news, the National Logistics Policy (NLP) and PM Gati Shakti aim to integrate the logistics sector and bring costs down to 8% in the next five years.
MS: It is often being said that 'India's green energy ambitions will cost crores. To get funds, it must expand its finance market.' How must India channelise this aspect in a faster and better way?
SB: India’s approach in this direction should be gradual and diversified including multilateral institutions among others. In December 2022, the GoI, the Solar Energy Corporation of India Ltd (SECI) and World Bank have signed agreements for a $150 million IBRD loan, a $28 million Clean Technology Fund (CTF) loan and grants to enable India to increase its power generation capacity through green and renewable energy sources.
It is quite a commendable achievement by India that total green finance has increased in the last four years reaching a biennial average of INR 309 thousand crores. Nevertheless, given its ambitious targets, funding would be a challenge. Institutions like IFC can be of great help in innovative financing. Commercial FIs, Corporations, Bilateral DFIs, Foreign Direct Investments could be other sources of financing. Creation of a voluntary carbon market, global climate alliance, green fintech, transition bonds as propounded by the IFSCA could be other options. The Union Budget 2022-23 announced the issue of Sovereign Green Bonds (para 103). Given the limitation of government budgetary financing and debt financing, equity financing should be resorted the most.
MS: Forecasts show India may become world’s third largest economy by 2030. But the issues like poverty, mal-nourishment and more still plague the nation. In your analysis, what stringent steps are needed in this direction of bridging the wide class-divide?
SB: The NITI Aaoyg came with a report (based on NFHS-4, 2015-16) where the concept of the “Multidimensional Poverty Index” (MPI) has been highlighted at reducing poverty in alignment with the SDG goals examining deprivations in areas such as nutrition, health, education, and living standards related indicators such as water and sanitation. However, as a matter of fact, the nature and dimensions of poverty itself is a complex issue. There should be focus on making people productive and providing basic literacy. A national MPI tries to identify how poor are people using direct information from the set of the MPI indicators, tracking poverty over time, comparing poverty across different regions etc. The benchmarking of various indicators and addressing such aspects to be dealt with effectively by engaging with various states, backward regions etc; by taking care of child mortality, maternal health and nutritional aspects.
Further, there is a need to deploy surplus labor and beggars in various productive works as well as there should be special focus to take care of mothers and children. Further, digital technology can be deployed for financial inclusion of the poor in a similar manner done by some African countries. India needs to take lessons from various other countries, to develop case studies, e.g. how digital wages helped Bangladeshi women. Providing adequate and quality health facilities in rural and backward areas should be other priorities. There is a need to incentivize developmental institutions/NGOs that are working to eradicate poverty.
MS: The government is working on a new industrial policy - “Industrial Policy 2022 - Make in India for the world" and is looking to create a development finance institution (DFI). Can you break this up for the understating of our student readers as to where the future of the sector lies in the next decade? And which sub-sectors can they eye a potential work area?
SB: The proposed industrial policy focuses on the following:
Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) have played a significant role in India’s industrial and overall economic development. A latest development is the setting up of the National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) Act, 2021 that received the assent of the President on March 28, 2021 and has come into force w.e.f. April 19, 2021. Accordingly, NaBFID has been set up as a Development Financial Institution (DFI) to support the development of long-term infrastructure financing in India.
Another policy measure is to try strengthening our manufacturing sector gradually over the years, as the GoI has launched a USD 10 billion incentive scheme to build a semiconductor, display, design ecosystem in India. Going forward, funding needs for infrastructure will be huge, and such policy measures especially in setting up such DFIs assume a crucial role to play.
Going forward, Healthcare, FMCG, Renewable Energy, Infrastructure, Defence manufacturing, construction, electronic equipment (including consumer electronics and appliances),ESDM, battery manufacturing, smart cities, water & sanitation, automobile (especially EVs), telecom etc; are likely to see massive growth with substantial investments.
MS: Indian Railways and various other passenger services are coming down to no concession to senior citizens. What should be the ideal way out to not take off that cover from this class, maximum of which are either dependent on savings or their children (not pensions)?
SB: Marginal hike in service charges/passenger fares can be levied across the well affluent classes/other eligible classes in a “product differentiation” strategy typically seen in an Oligopolistic nature of market. Sometimes, it is seen many young and mid-aged passengers are even willing to pay marginally higher prices for certain services. Even marginal hikes can be charged for AC-1 & 2 passengers. There is also a need to monitor subsidy amounts so as to reduce wasteful subsidies or subsidies that are uncalled for.
MS: Name five nations with which India must eye FTAs in the coming five years to assure deeper economic integration with trusted trading partners? And reason out why you picked each name, by elaborating the potential? .
SB: I would like to name the GCC, EU, US, Canada, Bangladesh. Now let me explain each and why:
The India-GCC FTA is under negotiation. GCC is a union of six countries in the Gulf region - Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. The council is the largest trading bloc of India.
The GCC countries are very aggressively pursuing their business with other countries and have huge business potential. Given the ongoing geopolitical issues, and amid sanctions imposed on Russia, India's FTA with GCC would unlock substantial trade that would enable growth and further development for the Indian economy. India’s economic linkage with the GCC have increased steadily, especially due to growth in oil imports.
The FTA negotiations between India and the EU kicked off in 2007 but in 2013 they were put on hold. India and the EU have been strategic partners since 2005. The EU is India's third largest trading partner, accounting for €88 billion worth of trade in goods in 2021 or 10.8% of total Indian trade. India is the EU’s 10th largest trading partner, accounting for 2.1% of EU total trade in goods. Trade in services between the EU and India reached €30.4 billion in 2020.
Among the top ten trading partners of India, the USA is the only country with which India has a trade surplus. As per the latest data released by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the net trade balance between India and the US stood at +$15.2 Bn between April-Sep 2022.
Canada and India concluded the fourth round of negotiations on an Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) on September 26, 2022, bringing both parties one step closer to a much-awaited Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).According to a study (27 Oct’22), “despite challenges in earlier stages of free trade negotiations between Canada and India, there is now momentum not only for an Early Progress Trade Agreement but for a full-fledged FTA between the two nations. The former wants to capture a greater market share in India, and the latter wants to build a long-term economic partnership with a developed economy.”
According to a study, India’s exports to Bangladesh may increase by additional $10 billion in a time span of five years if both countries sign a free trade agreement (FTA). There exists a potential of additional export from India to Bangladesh, ranging from $4 billion to $10 billion. This export potential in addition to existing exports could be achieved by India in a time span of five years.
2 "WEATHER DERIVATIVES: A STUDY ON NEED AND IMPEDIMENTS IN INDIA" (5 May 2022), by Chaudhary K and Vinita Mittal, International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts (IJCRT), Volume 10: https://ijcrt.org/papers/IJCRT2205493.pdf
3 LOK SABHA UNSTARRED QUESTION NO. 1478 ANSWERED ON 15TH DECEMBER, 2022, “DEVELOPMENT OF BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE OF NHS" http://184.108.40.206/loksabhaquestions/annex/1710/AU1478.pdf
4 Lok Sabha UNSTARRED QUESTION NO. : 1494 ( TO BE ANSWERED ON THE 15th December 2022 ) DEVELOPMENT OF INFRASTRUCTURE AT AIRPORT; GOVERNMENT OF INDIA MINISTRY OF CIVIL AVIATION http://220.127.116.11/loksabhaquestions/annex/1710/AU1494.pdf
About Sankhanath Bandyopadhyay
Mr. Sankhanath Bandyopadhyay has obtained a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Economics from J.N.U. and has been working since almost the last 16 years on contemporary economic policy issues. He is currently an Economist at Infomerics Ratings, and featured in various leading business news dailies. Previously he managed projects of various international and national stakeholders, developing policy papers for broader policy impact and stakeholders’ discussion. He has also worked with a global Export Credit Agency (ECA) where his work profile comprised of various project monitoring with top rated Public Sector Enterprises and other clients, risk assessments of events and Developments, working with Ministries of Government of India and various companies; industry bodies regarding projects & Indian economic policy aspects. He is interested in aspects pertaining to the Indian economy, how external developments are impacting the economy, policy feasibility and debates related to that.
About the Interviewer
Mahima Sharma is a Senior Journalist based in Delhi NCR. She has been in the field of TV, Print & Online Journalism since 2005 and previously an additional three years in the allied media. In her span of work she has been associated with CNN-News18, ANI - Asian News International (A collaboration with Reuters), Voice of India, Hindustan Times and various other top media brands of their times. In recent times, she has diversified her work as a Digital Media Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist as well. Since March 2022, she is also an Entrepreneurship Education Mentor at Women Will - An Entrepreneurship Program by Google in Collaboration with SHEROES. Mahima can be reached at email@example.com
Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the interviewed protagonist. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist and the opinions appearing in the answers do not reflect the views of Indiastat or the Journalist. Indiastat or the Journalist do not hold any responsibility or liability for the same.
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