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Is India on The Verge of an Export Miracle?
Issue Date - 18/08/2011
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When bad news comes cascading down like torrential rainfall during monsoon, it is very easy to ignore good news. Something similar is happening in India where scams, scandals, political logjams and widespread fears of an economic slowdown – even as inflation rages on – have become the staple of media outlets. So it was not very surprising when the phenomenal growth delivered on the export front was reported in a matter of fact manner, and then consigned to that dustbin called stale news! But I personally think that the export performance delivered by the Indian economy is not just a silver lining; it holds the promise of transforming India’s economy and its employment generation potential in this decade.

The facts first. In June 2011, the value of exports from India virtually touched $30 billion – up more than 46% compared to the same month in 2010. If you take the first quarter as a whole, the value of exports from India approached $80 billion – an increase of about 45% as compared to the April-June quarter last year. Even die-hard pessimists now agree that Indian exports will cross $300 billion in the current fiscal. This spectacular performance despite two powerfully inhibiting factors: the uncertainty and continued sluggishness in the global economy, particularly Europe and North America and the high rates of inflation in India that should make Indian exports less competitive.

There are two potentially game changing trends visible if you examine the trade figures a little closely. The first: Europe and America now account for just one-third of the total value of exports from India. Clearly, Indian exporters have been smart and have diversified their portfolio of destinations. The second, even more important trend is the fact that exports of products were double the exports of services in the April-June quarter. For long, everyone seems to have swallowed the myth that India will forever be the back office of the world, even as China continues to be the factory. There definitely was some merit in that argument in the past, but you cannot deny facts which indicate a startling structural change in the Indian economy. The fact is that manufacturing is growing and at a healthy rate. This is absolutely crucial for employment generation.

Just one policy announcement from the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh can make this export miracle a genuine and sustainable reality for this decade and beyond. Labour reforms in India have been largely stuck for about two decades because they are politically sensitive and pampered and powerful unions (that account for just about 3% of the total work force in India) have stalled them. Yet, imagine what could happen if Dr. Manmohan Singh announces that his government will guarantee the salaries of workers in key export industries like textiles, readymade garments, leather and others? The actual cost to the government will not be huge; but there will be a massive increase in investments in these key sectors to propel exports. Just the number of new jobs that will be created as a result – along with schemes like NREGA – will ensure that the UPA will continue to lord it over India. And who says there is no money to finance this game-changing export policy?

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