India's March exports pick up, help contain trade deficit

Cargo containers are seen stacked outside the container terminal of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Mumbai in this file photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 16, 2019, 10.19 AM (IST)

India's goods exports picked up in March, boosted by the weaker rupee despite a slowdown in global trade growth, helping the country to contain its trade deficit despite a surge in oil imports.

Merchandise exports rose 11.02 per cent to $32.55 billion in March from a year earlier, while imports were up 1.44 per cent to $43.44 billion during the same period, a statement by the trade ministry said on Monday.

Oil imports, the biggest item in the import bill, rose 5.55 per cent to $11.75 billion, driven by a rise in Indian demand and increases in global crude prices.

India meets nearly 80 per cent of its fuel demand through imports.

The ministry does not issue separate data for trade in services. That is issued in about a month's time by the Reserve Bank of India.

However, the ministry did issue estimates for goods and services trade in the year to March 31, based on the full-year merchandise trade figures and the first 11 months of services trade.

Total exports of goods and services were estimated at $535.45 billion in the financial year, up 7.97 per cent from a year earlier, compared with estimated imports of $631.29 billion, up 8.48 per cent, the statement said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 set a target to double India's exports of goods and services to $900 billion, raising the country's share of global exports to 3.5 per cent from about two per cent, by 2020.

Modi, who is seeking a second term in a general election that began last week, has been criticised by industry and opposition parties for not doing enough to boost exports and create jobs in the manufacturing sector.

"The prospects for exports look very challenging going forward," said Ravi Sehgal, chairman of the Engineering Export Promotion Council, who referred to a slowdown in global trade amid trade tensions between the United States and China.

Exporters said the new government should make exports its top priority, as this sector has a huge potential for creating jobs, the most pressing need for the country.

India's elections will end on May 19 and the results are expected to be announced on May 23. The latest polls show Modi's party, with support from allies, is likely to form the next government.