India’s Trade Deficit with China | UPSC

Introduction

  • India and China, two economic behemoths of Asia, share a multifaceted trade relationship that has witnessed exponential growth over the past few decades. However, this relationship is not without its challenges, as India grapples with a widening trade deficit with China.
  • India’s imports from China crossed $101 billion in 2023-24 from about $70 billion in 2018-19, and the country’s share of India’s industrial goods imports has risen from 21% to 30% over 15 years, says a report by the Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI) which reckoned that Chinese imports will rise sharply in coming years.
  • On the other hand, between 2018-19 and 2023-24, India’s exports to China have stagnated around $16 billion annually while imports have surged, resulting in a cumulative trade deficit exceeding $387 billion over six years.
  • The strategic implications of this dependency are ‘profound’ and affect not only economic but national security dimensions as China is a geo-political competitor of India.

Causes of increase in India’s trade deficit with China

  • India’s trade deficit with China has been steadily increasing over the years due to a combination of factors, which can be analyzed as follows:

a) Manufactured Goods Dominance:

  • China’s manufacturing sector is highly competitive and efficient, allowing it to produce a wide range of goods at lower costs compared to many other countries, including India. As a result, Chinese manufactured goods flood the Indian market, leading to a significant trade imbalance.

b) Commodity Dependency:

  • India’s exports to China primarily consist of raw materials and low-value commodities such as iron ore, cotton, and agricultural products. These commodities often face volatile prices in the international market, leading to fluctuations in export earnings.
      • In contrast, China exports higher-value manufactured goods to India, resulting in a trade deficit.

c) Infrastructure Disparities:

  • China boasts advanced infrastructure, including well-developed transportation networks and modern ports, which enable efficient production and export processes.
  • In contrast, India’s infrastructure is often inadequate and plagued by inefficiencies, leading to higher production and transportation costs for Indian exporters.

d) Market Access Barriers:

  • China imposes various non-tariff barriers such as stringent quality standards, certification requirements, and regulatory hurdles, which make it difficult for Indian exporters to access the Chinese market. These barriers hinder the export of Indian goods to China specially the pharmaceutical exports, contributing to the trade deficit.

e) Currency Manipulation:

  • Some analysts argue that China’s manipulation of its currency, the yuan, to maintain a competitive edge in international trade exacerbates India’s trade deficit. A weaker yuan makes Chinese exports cheaper in the global market, further tilting the trade balance in China’s favor.

f) Structural Issues:

  • India’s trade deficit with China also reflects structural issues within the Indian economy, such as inefficiencies in manufacturing, regulatory bottlenecks, rigid labor laws, and a lack of competitiveness in certain industries. These issues limit India’s ability to export value-added products and compete with Chinese goods in the global market.

Steps taken by India to decrease its trade deficit with China

  • India has taken several steps to decrease its trade deficit with China, aiming to protect domestic industries, enhance competitiveness, and promote balanced trade. However, the effectiveness of these measures and their impact on reducing the trade deficit has been a subject of debate.

a) Trade Remedial Measures:

  • India imposes various trade remedial measures on a case to case basis, including anti-dumping duties, safeguard measures, and countervailing duties, on certain Chinese products to protect domestic industries from unfair competition and dumping practices.
  • While these measures provide temporary relief to domestic industries, they may not address the root causes of the trade deficit, such as structural issues and lack of competitiveness in certain sectors.
  • Trade remedial measures should be complemented with broader policy initiatives aimed at enhancing competitiveness, promoting domestic manufacturing, and diversifying exports.
  • Without addressing these underlying issues, trade remedies may only provide temporary relief without addressing the root causes of the trade deficit.

b) Enhanced Trade Infrastructure:

  • India has made investments in improving trade infrastructure, including ports, roads, and customs facilities, to facilitate smoother trade operations and reduce logistics costs.
      • While improved infrastructure can enhance trade efficiency and competitiveness, infrastructure enhancements alone may not address non-tariff barriers and regulatory hurdles that impede trade with China.
      • Efforts should be made to streamline trade procedures, reduce bureaucratic delays, and harmonize standards to facilitate trade between the two countries.

c) Promotion of Domestic Manufacturing:

  • Initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ have been launched to promote domestic manufacturing capabilities, attract foreign investment, and reduce dependency on imports, including those from China.
  • Production Linked Incentives (PLI) Schemes in 14 critical sectors like electronics, pharmaceuticals, white goods, telecom and Networking products, etc., where there is substantial dependency on imports, have been launched by the Government.
  • For development of semiconductors and display manufacturing ecosystem, the Government has approved Semicon India Programme with financial outlay of Rs. 76,000 cr.
  • The initiatives taken by the Government have led to decline in dependency on imports. For example, the imports of mobile handsets have decreased from Rs 48,609 crore in 2014-15 to around Rs 6,685 crore in 2022-23.
      • While promoting domestic manufacturing is essential for long-term economic growth, its immediate impact on reducing the trade deficit with China may be limited, as it takes time to build competitive manufacturing capabilities and substitute imports.
      • Indian manufacturers often struggle to compete with Chinese counterparts in terms of cost, quality, and scale of production. Addressing these competitiveness issues requires comprehensive reforms in areas such as taxation, land acquisition, and skill development.
      • Promoting domestic manufacturing requires greater integration with global value chains, technology transfer, and access to capital and markets. India needs to attract foreign investment, foster innovation, and build linkages with multinational corporations to enhance its manufacturing capabilities.

d) Diplomatic Efforts:

  • India has engaged in diplomatic efforts to negotiate with China for the removal of non-tariff barriers and the simplification of trade procedures, aiming to enhance market access for Indian exporters.
      • India should leverage multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address trade disputes and seek recourse against unfair trade practices by China. Collaborating with like-minded countries and building alliances can strengthen India’s bargaining power and enhance its ability to achieve favorable outcomes in trade negotiations with China.

e) Export Diversification:

  • India has emphasized the diversification of its export basket to include high-value products with strong demand in the Chinese market, such as technology products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and services.
      • While export diversification is essential for reducing dependence on specific markets and products, the success of this strategy depends on India’s ability to enhance competitiveness and meet the quality standards of the Chinese market.

Strategies for Trade Deficit Mitigation and Export Enhancement

  • India-China trade relations are marked by a significant trade deficit, with India importing more goods from China than it exports. To address this imbalance and enhance export opportunities to China, India can adopt several strategies:

a) Export Diversification:

  • Identify High-Demand Sectors: Conduct market research to identify sectors with high demand in the Chinese market, such as technology products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and services.
  • Promote Emerging Industries: Encourage investments and innovation in emerging industries where India has a comparative advantage, such as renewable energy, information technology, and biotechnology.
  • Explore Niche Markets: Target niche markets within China where Indian products have a competitive edge, such as organic food products, ayurvedic medicines, and handicrafts.
  • Geographical Diversification: Explore opportunities to diversify export destinations within China, focusing on second and third-tier cities where demand for Indian goods may be growing.

b) Quality Enhancement and Branding:

  • Adopt International Standards: Ensure that Indian products meet international quality standards and certifications required by the Chinese market to enhance their competitiveness and appeal.
  • Brand Promotion: Launch marketing campaigns to promote ‘Brand India’ and highlight the unique selling propositions of Indian products, such as quality, craftsmanship, and cultural heritage.
  • Invest in Research and Development: Invest in research and development to improve product design, functionality, and innovation, thereby enhancing the perceived value of Indian products in the Chinese market.
  • Partnerships with Influencers: Collaborate with Chinese influencers, celebrities, and social media platforms to increase visibility and consumer trust in Indian brands and products.

c) Easing Market Access:

  • Negotiate Trade Agreements: Engage in bilateral negotiations with China to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers, simplify trade procedures, and enhance market access for Indian exporters.
  • Address Regulatory Hurdles: Advocate for regulatory reforms in China to address issues such as complex certification requirements, intellectual property protection, and customs clearance procedures that hinder trade.
  • Utilize Free Trade Zones: Explore opportunities to leverage free trade zones and special economic zones in China to facilitate the import of Indian goods and encourage joint ventures and collaborations between Indian and Chinese companies.
  • Facilitate Cross-Border E-commerce: Promote cross-border e-commerce platforms that enable Indian exporters to directly reach Chinese consumers, bypassing traditional distribution channels and reducing market entry barriers.

d) Promotion of Joint Ventures:

  • Strategic Partnerships: Foster strategic partnerships and joint ventures between Indian and Chinese companies to leverage complementary strengths, technologies, and market networks.
  • Technology Transfer: Facilitate technology transfer agreements between Indian and Chinese firms to enhance manufacturing capabilities, product quality, and innovation.
  • Investment Incentives: Offer investment incentives and subsidies to encourage Chinese companies to invest in manufacturing facilities in India, thereby boosting exports and creating employment opportunities.
  • Market Expansion: Jointly explore third-country markets and export opportunities beyond China, leveraging the combined strengths and resources of Indian and Chinese companies.

e) Government Support and Incentives:

  • Export Promotion Schemes: Implement export promotion schemes and incentives such as Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) scheme, Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS), and Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme (TIES) to support Indian exporters and enhance their competitiveness.
  • Financial Assistance: Provide financial assistance, credit facilities, and export finance support to Indian exporters to overcome financing constraints and facilitate exports to China.
  • Capacity Building: Invest in skill development, training programs, and capacity-building initiatives to enhance the export capabilities of Indian companies and promote entrepreneurship in export-oriented sectors.
  • Trade Facilitation: Strengthen trade facilitation mechanisms, export promotion councils, and export promotion agencies to provide guidance, information, and support services to Indian exporters targeting the Chinese market.

By implementing these strategies in a coordinated and sustained manner, India can mitigate its trade deficit with China and unlock new opportunities for export growth, thereby fostering balanced and mutually beneficial trade relations between the two countries.

Future Outlook for India-China Trade Relations

  • India-China trade relations have undergone significant transformations over the years, shaped by economic, geopolitical, and technological developments. Looking ahead, several factors will influence the future trajectory of bilateral trade relations between the two countries:
  • Economic Interdependence: Despite trade imbalances and occasional tensions, India and China remain important trading partners with complementary economies. Both countries recognize the mutual benefits of trade cooperation and are likely to continue strengthening economic ties in the future.
  • Structural Reforms: India’s ongoing structural reforms, including efforts to improve the ease of doing business, enhance infrastructure, and promote domestic manufacturing, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of trade relations with China. These reforms aim to address the underlying factors contributing to the trade deficit and enhance India’s competitiveness in the global market.
  • Geopolitical Dynamics: Geopolitical tensions and strategic rivalries between India and China, particularly along their disputed border regions, can impact trade relations. However, both countries have shown resilience in maintaining economic engagement despite political differences, and efforts to de-escalate tensions could lead to greater stability in trade relations.
  • Technology and Innovation: The emergence of new technologies and innovation ecosystems presents opportunities for collaboration and competition between India and China. Both countries have vibrant tech industries and are investing heavily in sectors such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and clean energy. Cooperation in these areas could drive future trade and investment flows.
  • Global Trade Dynamics: Shifts in global trade patterns, including the rise of protectionism, trade disputes, and regional trade agreements, will influence India-China trade relations. Both countries are members of multilateral trade organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are actively engaged in regional trade initiatives such as ASEAN, which could shape their trade policies and strategies in the future.
  • Environmental and Sustainability Concerns: Increasing awareness of environmental issues and sustainability concerns is likely to influence trade relations between India and China. Both countries face challenges related to pollution, resource depletion, and climate change, and there is growing emphasis on promoting green and sustainable trade practices.
  • People-to-People Exchanges: Enhanced people-to-people exchanges, cultural diplomacy, and tourism can contribute to strengthening bilateral ties and fostering greater understanding between the peoples of India and China. Educational collaborations, tourism promotion, and cultural exchanges can complement trade relations and build trust and goodwill.

Conclusion

  • In conclusion, while India’s strategies to decrease its trade deficit with China have their merits, they also face significant challenges and limitations.
  • Addressing the trade deficit requires a comprehensive approach that combines trade remedial measures with broader policy initiatives aimed at enhancing competitiveness, promoting domestic manufacturing, and fostering diplomatic engagement with China.
  • Only through concerted efforts and strategic reforms can India achieve a more balanced and mutually beneficial trade relationship with China.

References:

Practice Question for UPSC Mains

Topic: Indian Economy and Related Issues (GS Mains Paper 3)

Q. Analyse the key factors contributing to India’s trade deficit with China. What targeted strategies can India implement to enhance its exports and mitigate this imbalance effectively? (Answer in 250 words)

Introduction:

  • India and China, two economic behemoths of Asia, share a multifaceted trade relationship that has witnessed exponential growth over the past few decades. However, this relationship is not without its challenges, as India grapples with a widening trade deficit with China.
  • India and China share a dynamic trade relationship, characterized by substantial volumes across various sectors including electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and more. Both nations are members of numerous trade agreements and forums, further enhancing bilateral trade ties.
  • Despite the voluminous trade, India has been consistently facing a widening trade deficit with China. This imbalance is primarily attributed to China’s dominance in exporting manufactured goods such as electronics, machinery, and textiles, while India’s exports majorly comprise raw materials and low-value products.

Factors Contributing to the Trade Deficit:

  • Competitive Advantage: China’s cost competitiveness due to economies of scale and efficient manufacturing capabilities.
  • Infrastructure Disparities: China’s superior infrastructure facilitates cost-effective production and transportation.
  • Market Access Barriers: Non-tariff barriers in China restrict market access for Indian goods, exacerbating the trade deficit.
  • India’s Response to Mitigate the Trade Deficit: India has implemented several measures to address the burgeoning trade deficit with China, including:
  • Trade Remedial Measures: Imposition of anti-dumping duties and safeguard measures on certain Chinese products to protect domestic industries.
  • Enhancing Trade Infrastructure: Investments in improving trade infrastructure to boost competitiveness and reduce logistics costs.
  • Promotion of Domestic Manufacturing: Initiatives like ‘Make in India’ aimed at bolstering domestic manufacturing capabilities to substitute imports and promote exports.

Strategies to Increase India’s Exports to China:

  • Diversification of Export Basket: Encouraging diversification of exports beyond traditional sectors to capitalize on emerging opportunities in sectors like technology, pharmaceuticals, and services.
  • Addressing Non-Tariff Barriers: Diplomatic efforts to negotiate with China for reducing non-tariff barriers and facilitating easier access for Indian goods in the Chinese market.
  • Promotion of Brand India: Strengthening the ‘Brand India’ image through effective marketing campaigns and quality assurance measures to enhance the appeal of Indian products in China.
  • Collaborative Ventures: Facilitating partnerships between Indian and Chinese companies to leverage complementary strengths and penetrate new markets together.

Conclusion:

  • India-China trade relations stand at a critical juncture, marked by significant trade imbalances and strategic considerations. While India grapples with a widening trade deficit, proactive measures such as trade remedies and domestic manufacturing promotion have been initiated.
  • However, sustained efforts are required to mitigate the deficit and unlock the full potential of bilateral trade. By diversifying export baskets, addressing non-tariff barriers, and fostering collaborative ventures, India can enhance its exports to China, fostering mutual economic growth and stability in the region.
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