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The India Policy Forum 2004
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Chapter OneEditors' Summary
The India Policy Forum (IPF) is a new journal, jointly promoted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi, and the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., that aims to present high-quality empirical analysis on the major economic policy issues that confront contemporary India. The journal is based on papers commissioned by the editors and presented at an annual conference. The forum is supported by a distinguished advisory panel and a panel of active researchers who provide suggestions to the editors and participate in the review and discussion process. The need for such real-time quantitative analysis is particularly pressing for an economy like India's, which is in the process of rapid growth, structural change, and increased involvement in the global economy. The founders of the IPF hope it will contribute to enhancing the quality of policy analysis in the country and stimulate empirically informed decisionmaking. The style of the papers, this editors' summary, and the discussants' comments and general discussions are all intended to make these debates accessible to a broad nonspecialist audience, inside and outside India, and to present diverse views on the issues. The IPF is also intended to help build a bridge between researchers inside India and researchers abroad, nurturing a global network of scholars interested in India's economic transformation.
The first India Policy Forum conference took place at the NCAER in Delhi on March 26-27, 2004. In addition to the working sessions, the occasion was marked by a public address given by Stanley Fischer, vice chairman with Citigroup International and a member of the IPF advisory panel. This inaugural issue of the IPF includes the papers and discussions presented at that conference. The papers focus on several contemporary policy issues. The first two papers provide alternative perspectives on the trade policies that would do the most to enhance India's future growth prospects in the context of ongoing developments in the global trading system. The three papers that follow are devoted to an analysis of recent developments in India's balance of payments and their implications for the future exchange rate regime, the integration of exchange rate policy with other aspects of macroeconomic policy, and capital account convertibility, respectively. The sixth paper is devoted to an examination of the performance of the Indian banking system and the implications of the dominant role of government-run banks.
The first paper, by Arvind Panagariya, provides a broad review of India's external sector policies; the impact of these policies on trade flows, efficiency, and growth; and the future direction trade policies should take. Since trade policies are a means to an end, namely faster growth and improved efficiency, and since trade policies support other domestic policies, Panagariya's review necessarily ranges into these areas as well. Finally, to place India's performance in perspective, Panagariya makes extensive comparisons throughout between Indian and Chinese outcomes over the past two decades (1980-2000), a period when both economies have chosen to reintegrate into the world economy.
India's growth experience since 1950 falls in two phases. The first thirty years were characterized by steady growth of around 3.5 percent; thereafter growth has tended to stay in the 5 to 6 percent range. Panagariya links this differential growth performance with the imposition and subsequent relaxation of microeconomic controls, particularly in the external sector. In turn he divides these external sector policies into three phases. Between 1950 and 1975 the trend was toward virtual autarky, particularly after a balance-of-payments crisis in 1956-57. This was succeeded by a period of "ad hoc liberalization" starting around 1976, when reform of quantitative restrictions on trade was complemented by deregulation of industrial licensing in certain sectors. A further balance-of-payments crisis in the period from late 1990 to early 1991, concurrent with a general election, provided the background for a switch to deeper and more systematic liberalization, which, in fits and starts, continues today.
In the merchandise trade area the focus of reform has been to reduce tariff levels, particularly on nonagricultural goods. This has been done by gradually reducing the peak rate and reducing the number of tariff bands. In 1990-91 the peak rate stood at 355 percent, while the simple average of all tariff rates was 113 percent. By early 2004 the peak rate on individual goods was down to 20 percent, though there were notable exceptions, such as chemicals and transport equipment. Similarly, there has been less than ideal progress in reducing end-user and other exemptions. In nonindustrial areas there has been substantial liberalization of trade (and investment) in services, but following the OECD example, less in agriculture.
Panagariya next reviews the impact of this liberalization on trade flows, on efficiency, and on growth, in many cases using China as a benchmark. India's share in world exports of goods and services-which had declined from 2 percent at Indian independence in 1947 to 0.5 percent in the mid-1980s-bounced back to 0.8 percent in 2002, implying that for roughly twenty years India's trade has grown more rapidly than world trade. In addition, the deeper reforms of the 1990s yielded a pick-up of almost 50 percent over the previous decade, from 7.4 percent to 10.7 percent. Encouraging though these numbers are in light of India's past performance, they pale in comparison with the Chinese record over the same period. Aside from any issues that may arise in the measurement of Chinese GDP at a time of rapid institutional and economic change, the combined share of exports and imports of both goods and services rose in China from 18.9 percent in 1980 to 49.3 percent in 2000, according to World Bank data. For India, the comparable numbers were 15.9 percent (in 1980) and 30.6 percent (in 2000).
The increase in India's trade intensity has been accompanied by significant shifts in composition. The most dramatic has been the increased share of service exports in the 1990s. Within industry, exporting sectors with above-average growth tended to be skill- or capital-intensive rather than labor-intensive, while on the import side the share of capital goods imports declined sharply. In the area of services, rapid growth was exhibited by software exports and recorded remittances from overseas Indians. However, tourism receipts remain below potential. With regard to trade partners, the main shift over the 1990s was a move away from Russia toward Asia, particularly developing Asia. An interesting recent development has been the rapid expansion of India's trade with China.
Panagariya then reviews the evidence on the impact of liberalization on static efficiency and on growth. One common approach is to use a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model to estimate the effects of the removal of trade distortions. The one study cited estimates the impact as raising GDP permanently by 2 percentage points. Additional domestic liberalization could raise this figure to 5 percentage points. Panagariya argues, however, that such models miss some key sources of gains. He cites two in particular: the disappearance of inefficient sectors and improvements in product quality. In addition, disaggregated analysis at the five-digit SITC level reveals far more dynamism in product composition of both exports and imports than is revealed at the two-digit level. This suggests greater gains from trade and improved welfare from enhanced choice than is captured in more aggregate models.
The links between liberalization and aggregate growth-or growth in total factor productivity (TFP)-have been controversial both in India and elsewhere in the emerging economies of Asia. In the case of India, the focus has been almost exclusively on manufacturing. After reviewing several studies, which admittedly differ in methodology and data quality, Panagariya judges that the weight of the evidence indicates that trade liberalization has led to productivity gains. Notwithstanding this reasonably positive assessment, Panagariya reminds us that overall, Indian industry's performance in the 1980s and 1990s has been pedestrian, particularly compared with that of services.
The poor performance of Indian industry and the stronger growth performance of Chinese industry form the backdrop for Panagariya's final section, on future policy. He discusses four issues: domestic policies bearing on trade; autonomous liberalization; regional trade agreements; and India's participation in multilateral negotiations. With regard to the first, the central question for Panagariya is why Indian industry's response to liberalization has been more sluggish than China's. Panagariya attributes this in part to differences in economic structure but also to differences in the two countries' domestic policies. He argues that it is easiest to expand trade in industrial products, and it is easier to do so if the industrial sector represents a large share of national value added. As far back as 1980, the share of industry in China was 48.5 percent, while in India it was half that, at 24.2 percent. Two decades later things are not very different. Panagariya makes a further interesting point: a relatively small industrial sector also reduces the capacity of the economy to absorb imports, leading to a tendency toward exchange rate appreciation (although even China has not been immune from this tendency). He concludes that it is imperative to stimulate industrial growth and cites reform in three areas as being essential: reduction of the fiscal deficit; reduction and ultimately elimination of the list of manufactured products "reserved" for small-scale industry; and reform of the country's labor laws, which make reassignment or retrenchment of workers prohibitively difficult in the so-called formal or organized sector.
Turning next to autonomous trade reform, Panagariya is critical of the view, widely held in India, that the tariff structure ought to favor final goods over intermediates. He also notes that the current tariff structure remains riddled with complexity. He urges the authorities to move quickly to a single uniform tariff of 15 percent for nonagricultural goods and to move to a uniform tariff of 5 percent by the end of the decade. With regard to agriculture, Panagariya points out that India stands to gain from autonomous tariff liberalization given its potential as an agricultural exporter. He also addresses the issue of "contingent protection," wherein India's liberal use of antidumping regulations has clearly had protectionist intent. Panagariya urges changes in the antidumping procedures currently in place and also greater use of safeguard measures, as they are applied on a nondiscriminatory basis to all trading partners.
While India has traditionally taken comfort in a multilateral rule-based system of international trade, it has more recently embarked on an ambitious program of regional trade negotiations. It has signed free trade area (FTA) agreements with Sri Lanka and Thailand and is in the advanced stages of negotiating an FTA with Singapore. Panagariya analyzes the global, regional, and domestic factors that have brought about this shift in strategy-essentially the weakening of the U.S. commitment to multilateral negotiations, together with political imperatives. Panagariya observes that for a relatively protected economy, trade diversion and the associated revenue loss should be important concerns. He is also concerned that preoccupation with FTAs diverts attention from both unilateral liberalization and multilateral negotiations, each of which yields greater return for the effort expended. However, Panagariya concedes that there is a strategic case for FTAs, both to exert leverage in the multilateral sphere and to create a template that reflects India's interests in future bilateral and multilateral negotiations. In this context he is critical of the template developed in the agreement on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which, in his view, is cluttered with many nontrade issues. In the specific case of a U.S.-India FTA, he believes that there is a strong case for an agreement in services, with mutually beneficial exchange of market access.
The paper ends with a discussion of India's interests in ongoing multilateral trade negotiations. Panagariya's main point is that India has a strong interest in successful conclusion of the Doha Round and could agree to the U.S. proposal aimed at eliminating tariffs on industrial goods by 2015. As noted before, India also has interests in improved market access in agriculture; given the considerable water in its bound tariffs, some concessions should be possible, particularly if accompanied by reductions in subsidies by rich countries.
The 1990s and the new millennium have seen a massive proliferation of preferential trade arrangements (PTAs), which typically lead to free trade among two or more countries, as, for example, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Until recently, Asian countries had more or less stayed away from these arrangements, but this is changing rapidly, with many countries in the region now forging free trade areas. In their paper, Robert Lawrence and Rajesh Chadha assess the likelihood and benefits of the negotiation of a free trade area between India and the United States. Like Panagariya, Lawrence also embeds his discussion of India's trade policy within the framework of the larger Indian reform effort. Following Ahluwalia, he characterizes Indian reform since 1991 as incremental, not radical. While there has been deepening consensus about the broad direction of reform within the policy elite, excessive clarity on endpoints and on the pace of transition is seen to be politically risky. Trade policy reform has been an important part of this liberalization effort, and it has been similarly characterized by a clear direction but fitful implementation and shifting promises as to endpoints.
Lawrence accepts that this strategy has been relatively successful in producing steady growth without major policy reversals or financial crises over the last decade. Yet, like Panagariya, he notes that trade reform is a job only half done. India's tariff rates remain among the world's highest, and there remain significant barriers to foreign investment. Within India, there continues to be political resistance to liberalization. Lawrence asks what the best trade and reform strategy for India is now, given the tasks yet to be accomplished.
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