Skip to main content

Overcoming trade imbalance in South Asia and IMF's post-Covid 'extreme optimism'

By Prof Utpal K De, Dr Simi Mehta 

Covid-19 has resulted in a disruption of trade as well as market linkage across the globe. The responses of various countries have been observed in the form of a structural shift from participating in global supply chains to looking inwardly. Lockdown of the economies hit global supply chains by halting the process of production and output.
The world for the first time in decades experienced negative growth of over 7 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects a bounce back by 2021 where the optimism is located in the potential of growth within South Asian economies.
There was an exponential reduction in trade across the countries and India experienced reduction in imports more than that of exports. This skewed response resulted in a belief that India had successfully responded to trade imbalance, and the understanding of today was the result of protectionism with both exports and imports being hit. However, there is a large potential for India and South Asia to grow both within global supply chains and building regional supply chains.

Trade as means for development

Prof Amita Batra, chairperson, Centre for South Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), pointed out that trade is usually studied as a standalone economic variable. It is the development potential that should be looked at as a key motivation for growing inter- and intra-regional trade.
The South Asian region has been riddled with developmental concerns which only exacerbated during and after the lockdown. South Asia today houses the largest population of the global poor. Poverty is not just the absence of capital but translates into a losing the potential of demographic dividend due to concerns of hunger, education, skill development and health care.
It is common knowledge today that South Asia holds a massive potential of demographic dividend because of its large proportion of population within working age group. This has so far translated into failed potential due to development and sustainability concerns. How does trade which is traditionally seen as a marker of economic growth respond to these concerns?
Trade within it houses the potential to absorb this demographic dividend into production activity which would increase flow of capital and eventually progress to answering larger developmental concerns at micro level. The biggest concern with the demographic dividend in South Asia in her opinion, “there is an inability to match skills of working age group with demand for particular skills.”

Trade as an engine of growth

It has been argued that, trade is an important instrument of economic growth where there is percolation from the economic variable to individual life. Trade leads to prosperity from competitive advantage, and in order to sustain this advantage there must be an efficient allocation of resources. Effective and efficient allocation of resources results in ‘growth for all’.
This aspect of the benefit of trade as an engine of growth, when pointed by Prof Batra incapsulated within it an understanding of the inequities which are the result of trade. There would be industries which would become obsolete, and the role of State becomes important. The state must ensure that the population which is rendered unemployed as their working sectors becomes obsolete, must be re-skilled to meet the demands of the economy.

Trade’s global supply chains

Trade is not always responsive to income can be nuanced to trade is differentially responsive to income. This leads one sector becoming obsolete to draw an analogy service sector has taken over manufacturing sector as the lead traded commodity, even within manufactured products intermediary products lead the share in trade. These trade cycles has resulted in global value chains.
The concerns with these global value chains remain that a dominant player in these global chains remains the China. The reasons why China controls these global chains is because of the structural and economic benefits where it stands to be the second largest economy. Its expansionary trade and economic fiscal policies have resulted in a capital surplus economy where most of the countries stand at a disadvantage of increasing trade deficits.
Trade deficits are difficult to sustain and following the politics immediately with the Covid outbreak has begun a cycle to restore these global supply chains, looking at returning to North America and using ASEAN countries including India for their low cost of production. 
To capitalize on this opportunity, South Asia needs to revive their regional trade capacities. ASEAN has made itself a viable alternate which began with the foreign direct investment from Japan and resulted in a specialized segmented process where network production is led by the market.

Way forward

There needs to be a comprehensive response from South Asia in terms of strengthening regional value chains. Globally trade has grown exponentially by resulting from special trade agreements. South Asia as a region has not resulted in similar agreement-based integration. Regional integration has been bogged with socio-political concerns. Political and geographical conflicts which are the result of colonial history between the countries need to be actively responded with possible solutions.
After engaging with the political questions, there needs to be a focus on expanding the normative engagement with trade and its impact. Dr Ganesh Wignaraja, senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), Singapore, spoke on the need to evolve new trade policies following the unprecedented shock to economies. One needs to steer clear of extreme optimism because IMF projections can only be true if the vaccines result in a global immunity to the virus (including the new strain).
There has to be skeptical optimism, where the state does not become too complacent. They have to be more vigilant for second shock or interrupted pattern to economic growth. Covid-19 has also resulted in protectionist economic stands and if they do not change, economic and trade growth will not be possible.
Developmental questions can be responded to with an efficient understanding of problems that affect the population. Food insecurity is a key concern that continues to loom in the region. Analyzing the Indian capacity for both investment and infrastructure could build into a trade value chain for agro-processing.
New sectors can aid South Asia to begin the journey of development and trade. These sectors are financial services and digital trade treaties. These sectors hold within themselves the capacity to absorb tertiary graduate population in the country.
---
Acknowledgment: Sakshi Sharda, research intern at the Impact and Policy Research Institute, pursuing  MPhil from Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Comments

TRENDING

Political consensus? Celebrations, with over 5,000 plus post-vaccine deaths in India

By Rosamma Thomas*  As India fully vaccinated nearly 20% of its population and celebrated the “milestone” of administering one billion (100 crore) Covid-19 vaccine doses, it was time to remember those who died shortly after vaccination . By October 20, 2021 Twitter handle C400T, tracking deaths reported to have occurred after receiving the Covid-19 shot in India, updated the 5,134th death.

Is sacrilege charge against Punjab Dalits any different from Pak blasphemy cases?

Lakhbir Singh, his wife By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  There is no doubt that Sikhism actually was a revolt against the Brahmanical system and superstition. Guru Granth Saheb is perhaps the only Holy Book which contains matters from different religions as well as those of various Sufi saints, including Kabir, Ravidas, Baba Farid and others. The aim of Sikhism was to create an egalitarian society, and, definitely, Punjab that way is far better than many other States in India, where violence against Dalits is rampant.

Billion vaccine doses? Devil is in details: 70% haven't got 2nd jab; numbers jacked up

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  India has reached the one billion Covid-19 vaccinations milestone. It is indeed a great news and a big salute to the less paid ordinary health-workers in interiors of India for this feat. The government wants all of India's 944 million adults to get vaccinated this year. Around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated, the government says.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Uttarakhand, Kerala disaster due to policies favouring India's developmental mafia

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Two of India’s most beautiful regions where thousands of people go to watch and feel the wonders of nature are suffering because of the extremely disastrous rains and floods. The pain that the rains brought to Kerala and Uttarakhand is a warning to all of us. It's nature’s warning to us to mend our ways.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Religious mobs replicate blasphemy laws, 'threatening' liberty in a free country

Nihangs, Lakhbir Singh By Ajit Singh*   A Dalit man, Lakhbir Singh, was mercilessly beaten up and lynched to death near farmers’ protest site in the State of Haryana allegedly by Nihang Sikhs. It was alleged that he committed blasphemy by desecrating the Holy Book Guru Granth Sahib.

Shabana Azmi joins Pak physicist Hoodbhoy to condemn B'desh anti-minority violence

By Our Representative  Several well-known South Asian activists and public figures of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Maldives have expressed “deep distress” by the spate of violence and killings in Bangladesh on the occasion of Durga Puja and Vijayadashami. “Attacks on minorities are a sign of injustice and a matter of shame for any society and bring a bad name to the Government”, they said in a joint statement.

March opposes Sabarmati Ashram renovation: 'Mahatmaji had kept open for access to all'

Counterview Desk A Sevagram to Sabarmati march, which began on October 17 from Wardha (Maharashtra) and will end on October 24 in Ahmedabad (Gujarat), has demanded that the Sabarmati Ashram, the government should not impose "the fashion and glitz of a shallow modernity" at the cost of Rs 1,200 crore, in the name of renovating the Ashram founded by Gandhiji.