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Here's what experts make of the likely announcement of import curbs by the government

Updated : September 20, 2018 12:59 PM IST

The government will soon announce import curbs on several non-essential items, a top finance ministry official said Wednesday while terming "the 10 percent depreciation" in the rupee in the last few weeks as a "temporary phenomenon".

"There are always implications of the dollar and rupee exchange rates ... this 10 percent depreciation in last few weeks that is a temporary phenomenon," he said.

To a question about when the government intends to impose import curb on non-essential goods, he replied, "very soon."

He, however, did not give any timeframe.

Last week, union finance minister Arun Jaitley announced the government's decision to relax norms for raising overseas borrowing and impose restrictions on the non-essential imports as part of efforts to check rising current account deficit (CAD) and a falling rupee.

India's current account deficit deteriorated to 1.9 percent of GDP in 2017-18 from 0.6 percent in the previous year and is forecast to rise to around 2.8 percent in the current year. The trade deficit expanded to $80.4 billion in the first five months of the current fiscal year from $67.3 billion in the year-earlier period.

Shereen Bhan caught up with former Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) secretary Ajay Dua and Jayant Dasgupta, former Indian ambassador to the WTO, to discuss the likely measures that government may take.

Dua said, "We need to check the imports, but the choice of items has to be seen from the point of view of domestic inflation, the interest of domestic consumers as well as our international stand, both in WTO as well as viz-a-viz our trading partners. Looking at all these things, two commodities come to my mind, which perhaps government could impose duties. Whether it's higher customs duties or fixing minimum import price, which is also an equally effective way of checking."

According to Dua, "One of that is thermal coal, which we are importing in large quantities into India, despite having huge reserves of coal in India. Coal India maybe temporarily are not in a position to step up, but certainly has the potential to go along and ramp up its production."

Dasgupta said, "The emphasis the ministry of finance has been putting is to curb non-essential imports. My non-essential imports we should not really be hitting areas, which are vital for keeping the wheels of our economy moving. For instance, power generation. It's the same thing with crude oil, with gas for instance. So, I wouldn't put coal in that list right at the beginning."

"As far as gold is concerned, this has been a problem over the years. Two or three years ago, it went up to $62 billion for the year. As far as exports are concerned, you can import gold duty free, provided you export the product after conversion and value addition. So, that should take care of our export concerns. Gold is one of those non-essential items. I think in case there is a spurt in its imports, especially in view of the coming festival season, we can think of curbing imports by raising the tariffs on gold imports," he added.
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