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MSME budget expectations: Lower GST, Basel norm suspension, enhanced free loan limit

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Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is set to present the Union Budget 2021-22 on February 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic had ravaged all the sectors, but it is the micro small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector, which is said to have borne the maximum brunt of the pandemic.

As a result of the pandemic-induced lockdown, the MSME sector has been facing a massive liquidity and supply crunch, shortage of labour and non-payment of dues.

The government had announced a Rs 3 lakh crore Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) for MSMEs under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package in order to mitigate the stress caused by the lockdown. The scheme was valid till the month of October.

Finance Minister Sitharaman had later extended the ECLGS till November 2020 and had further extended it till March 21, 2021.

Experts, however, feel the Centre should take more steps for the revival of the MSME sector.

Financial Express had reported that experts have said the government should lower the GST on professional services from 18 percent to 5 percent to boost the MSME sector. 

MSME body Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises (FISME) has sought the temporary suspension of the Basel norms to ease lending from the banking sector, Financial Express had reported.

Further, the experts also want the government to increase the collateral-free loan limit to Rs 5 crore for micro-units, Rs 15 crore for small businesses and Rs 35 crore in case of medium businesses.

Union cabinet may consider proposal for enhancing private investment in mining sector on January 13 meeting

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The Union cabinet is most likely to consider the proposal of mining sector reform for enhancing private investment, in the meeting scheduled for January 13.

Amendments in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 have been proposed, sources said.

Earlier on Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said coal sector will play a very important role in achieving the target of $5 trillion economy by 2022.

He even launched a single window clearance system for the coal sector, and stated that commercial coal mining auctions will now facilitate small and medium industries to receive coal supplies easily.

Prior to this, Mines Secretary Anil Kumar Jain had indicated that reforms will pave the way for auctioning of at least 500 mineral blocks and had emphasised that calendar year 2021 will be a "bridge year between the past and the future".

India set to play a vital role in global digital economy

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India in 2020 has been one of the biggest and fastest-growing technology markets in the world. Digital and technology adoption in India has been increasing at a steady rate over the last few years, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of technology adoption across sectors, including in high involvement services such as education and healthcare.

From the consumer perspective, there is a behavioural shift in using digital as the primary channel, even for high velocity everyday purchases. Domestic and global investors are actively participating in building digital infrastructure — communication networks, data centre and cloud services, and electronics manufacturing — to support India’s fast-growing digital economy.

Specifically, 2020 has been a breakout year for the electronics manufacturing industry. Government incentives such as Production Linked Incentives (PLI), Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS), and Modified Electronics Manufacturing Clusters Scheme (EMC 2.0) under the aegis of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ generated significant interest from global investors in setting up manufacturing and supply chains in India. In October, the government approved applications of 16 electronics companies under the PLI scheme, and the scheme is now also being extended to 10 other sectors, including telecom and networking components.

A strong manufacturing ecosystem complements scientific and industrial research, and the developments in the electronics manufacturing industry in 2020 are likely to boost the overall technology manufacturing in India in the years to come. This will enable a self-sustaining ecosystem for research & development in advanced technologies, leveraging India’s cost-effective science and engineering talent.

In the export markets, India’s tier-1 technology services companies have shown resilience in not only revenue performance, but also in margin performance during this pandemic, and also stepped up hiring activity during the year. There has also been significant interest from tier-1 and tier-2 technology services companies to establish strategic partnerships with their MNC clients with respect to their captive technology and business operations, including acquisition and business transfer of certain assets.

For the MNCs, exiting sub-scale captive operations through strategic sale and business transfer helps unlock value, while ensuring business continuity. For service providers, such deals tend to strengthen client relationships and also provide revenue stability in the medium term along with skilled employees and capabilities. This year witnessed a few strategic transactions of this nature, and this trend is likely to continue into the future, as MNCs streamline their global product development and service delivery strategies in the post COVID-19 world.

From the demand side, digital transformation deals continue to gain momentum as enterprises invest in cloud based infrastructure for digitising their customer channels and business operations. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and edge computing are gaining momentum in designing next generation cloud-to-edge architecture and services. Workforce transformation in a work-from-anywhere environment has witnessed significant developments during the year, and also fundamentally transformed the way global delivery models are executed.

As we look into the future, global delivery models in technology services industry could witness a significant redesign, in the technology enabled world of work. Client project delivery would shift from mobilising resources to mobilising skills in a fully distributed workforce spread across multiple geographies, collaborating seamlessly for client projects delivered using cloud-based environments.

COVID-19 has brought significant shifts in technology consumption for enterprises, governments, and consumers alike, and 2020 has been the inflexion point in that transformation journey. As we look into the future, mass digitisation is a reality, across sectors and across the world, and a range of enterprise and consumer technologies — from 5G to the cloud to virtual reality and edge computing — will continue to offer opportunities to global enterprises. There is greater market potential, shorter adoption cycles, and possibly lower costs for next generation tools and technologies, and it’s imperative for organisations to reimagine customer experience and business processes for a digital first world.

Workforce transformation has proved to be one of the significant developments across industries. What started out as necessity in 2020 is likely to find a new equilibrium in 2021, as organisations reimagine workforce and workplaces at a more fundamental level keeping in mind long-term transitions in their business. Successful organisations will be those that are able to redesign their approach towards workforce management, in attracting, engaging, and retaining talent in a wholly different, technologically-enabled world of work.

The learnings on workforce transformation from the technology industry, which is one of the earliest to adapt to this phenomena would have relevance and resonance across the broader knowledge industries. The Indian technology industry’s talent machine coupled with fully distributed global delivery models is likely to play an important role in the transformation journey of the global digital economy in the years to come.

Thermal coal imports at major ports fall 16% to 55 MT in April-December period: IPA

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Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact cargo movement in India with thermal coal imports at 12 major ports declining 16.43 percent year-on-year to 55.16 million tonnes (MT) in April-December 2020 period, according to ports' body IPA.

Coking coal handling dropped by 12.13 percent to 36.96MT during the April-December period of the current fiscal.

Coal volumes at the 12 major ports declined for the ninth straight month in December 2020, as per the Indian Ports Association (IPA).

These ports had handled 66MT of thermal coal and 42MT of coking coal in April-December period of the previous financial year.

Thermal coal is the mainstay of India's energy programme as 70 percent of power generation is dependent on the dry fuel while coking coal is used mainly for making steel.

India is the third-largest producer of coal after China and the US. It has 299 billion tonnes of resources and 123 billion tonnes of proven reserves, which may last for over 100 years.

In the wake of the pandemic, sharp declines were also witnessed in handling of containers, coal and POL (Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant), among other commodities.

India has 12 major ports under the control of the central government -- Deendayal (erstwhile Kandla), Mumbai, JNPT, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Kamarajar (earlier Ennore), V O Chidambarnar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia).

These ports handle about 61 percent of the country's total cargo traffic. They handled 705MT of cargo last fiscal.

Adversely impacted by the pandemic, these 12 ports witnessed a considerable decline in cargo traffic for the eighth straight month in November.

Recently, Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said the cargo traffic at 12 major ports declined considerably from March 2020 onwards due to the adverse impact of the pandemic.

Government has not banned export of COVID-19 vaccines, clarifies Health Secretary

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The government has not banned the export of COVID-19 vaccines, said Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on January 5.

The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPITT) or the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) have not made any changes to export rules, thus, vaccine exports are allowed.

On January 4, the head of Serum Institute of India, which has been contracted to produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations said India will not allow the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months.

He said the company also has been barred from selling the vaccine in the private market.

The vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the Indian regulator on January 3, but on the condition that SII doesn't export the shots to ensure that vulnerable populations in India are protected, Adar Poonawalla, the company's CEO, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

India-US trade ties hit by tariff policies under Trump administration: US Congress report

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Under the Trump administration, US-India tensions have increased over each side's tariff policies, a Congressional report has said, noting that the two sides have also held concerted negotiations to address these trade frictions.

The bipartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), in its latest report, pointed out that India's recent tariff hikes on cell phones and other telecommunication goods went up from zero percent to 15-20 percent in the last few years.

"Under the Trump administration, bilateral tensions increased over each side's tariff policies. In general, India has relatively high average tariff rates, especially in agriculture. It can raise its applied rates to bound rates without violating its commitments under the WTO (World Trade Organization), causing uncertainty for US exporters," said the CRS report, which is prepared for the members of Congress ahead of trade decisions.

The United States and several other countries have requested to join various WTO dispute consultations against India, related to its technology tariffs, also questioning its compliance with the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA).

"India opposes the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum national security-based 'Section 232' tariffs that the Trump Administration imposed in 2018. India repeatedly delayed applying planned retaliatory tariffs against the United States in hopes of resolving the issues bilaterally," it said.

After India lost its eligibility for the US Trade Preference Program, India imposed higher tariffs of 10 percent to 25 percent, affecting about USD 1.32 billion of US exports, such as nuts, apples, chemicals, and steel, the report stated, adding that the two sides are challenging each other's tariffs in the WTO.

"Under the Trump administration, the United States and India held concerted negotiations to address trade frictions. A potential trade deal could include partial restoration by the United States of India's GSP (Generalised System of Preference) benefits in exchange for certain market access commitments according to press accounts," CRS said.

Yet, the long expected limited trade deal has not materialised to date, the report said.

Negotiations under prior administrations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) are stalled due to differences on approaches on investor protection.

On the government-to-government trade policy, the CRS listed a set of key issues. Main among them was what aspects of bilateral trade relations would change or remain the same under a President-elect Joe Biden-led administration.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, is set to be succeeded by Biden, a Democrat on January 20 after he won the November 3 presidential election.

Other key issues were, what trade issues should the United States and India prioritise in future talks, the potential for broader trade agreement negotiations, will India and the United States renegotiate entry into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or potentially seek other ways to engage on regional issues, and are there opportunities for the United States and India to bridge differences on multilateral trade issues.

Noting that India and the US have signed defense contracts worth more than USD 20 billion since 2008, up from USD 500 million in all previous years combined, the CRS said the future big deals are the purchase of an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System, valued at nearly USD2 billion, and 30 MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones worth more than USD 3 billion.

"India is eager for more technology-sharing and co-production initiatives, while the United States urges more reforms in India's defence offsets policy and higher Foreign Direct Investment caps in its defence sector. India's multibillion-dollar deal to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense system may trigger US sanctions on India under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the CRS said.

Over 4.84 crore ITRs for 2019-20 filed till December 31

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Over 4.84 crore income tax returns (ITRs) for fiscal year 2019-20 have been filed till December 31, 2020, the Income Tax Department said on Friday.

The government has extended the ITR filing deadline for individuals till January 10, and for companies till February 15.

'Over 4.84 crore Income Tax Returns for AY 2020-21 have already been filed till 31st of December, 2020,' the Income Tax Department tweeted.

The deadline for individuals to file ITRs for 2018-19 was August 31, 2019 and over 5.61 crore ITRs were filed.

An analysis of the data showed that filing of tax returns by individuals for 2019-20 has slowed in the current year, while filing by businesses and trusts have increased.

Over 2.65 crore ITR-1 have been filed till December 31, 2020, lower than the 3.09 crore filed till August 31, 2019.

Over 1.08 crore ITR-4 have been filed till December 31 as compared to 1.28 crore filed till August 31, 2019.

Returns in ITR-1 Sahaj are filed by individuals whose total income does not exceed Rs 50 lakh, while form ITR-4 Sugam is meant for individuals, Hindu Undivided Families (HUFs) and firms (other than Limited Liability Partnership ) having a total income of up to Rs 50 lakh and having presumptive income from business and profession.

Over 36.58 lakh ITR-2 (filed by people having income from residential property) were filed till December 31. ITR-5 (filed by LLP and Association of Persons) filings stood at 7.84 lakh, while ITR-6 (by businesses) filings were at 3.82 lakh.

ITR-7 (filed by persons having income derived from property held under trust) filings stood at 1.15 lakh till December 31, 2020.

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