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US decision to withdraw GSP benefits violates global trade rules: Experts

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The US' decision to withdraw incentives for Indian exporters violates global trade rules as it discriminates among developing countries, trade experts say. The US has decided to roll back export incentives provided under Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from June 5. The move is expected to impact India's exports wroth USD 5.6 billion under this programme.

Dhruv Gupta, Partner (International Trade), Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, said that irrespective of the eventual trade impact, the US' action of withdrawal of benefits against India is at loggerheads with its WTO obligations.

"It goes against the fundamental principle of non-discrimination because it discriminates between developing countries," Gupta said in a statement.

The decision also undermines the objective recognised in the preamble to the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement that there is a need for 'positive efforts' to ensure that developing countries secure a share in their growth in international trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development, he said.

Industry body CII too has stated that this decision has been taken in "haste" and would hurt domestic exporters.

It has expressed hope that both the US and India would discuss the matter and find an amicable solution to this issue.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) said that in respect of products having GSP benefits of 3 per cent or more, exporters may find it difficult to absorb the GSP loss.

The sectors which would be impacted include most imitation jewellery, leather articles, pharmaceuticals, chemical and plastics, basic and processed agri goods, it said.

"Government should provide some supports to products where GSP loss has been significant so that the market is not lost. Extension of rebate of state and central tax levies scheme on such products on exports to US will be beneficial," FIEO President Ganesh Kumar Gupta said.

As many as 1,900 Indian products from sectors such as chemicals and engineering get duty free access to the US market under the GSP, introduced in 1976.

The US has alleged that India is not providing equitable market access to its companies and has raised serious concerns over capping of prices of certain medical devices. It is also seeking market for its dairy products.

India's May gold imports jump 49% on festive demand: Government source

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India's gold imports in May jumped 49% from a year earlier to 116 tonnes as a correction in local prices during a key festival boosted retail demand, a government source said on June 4.

Higher gold imports by India, the world's second-biggest consumer of the precious metal, could support global prices that are trading near their highest level in three months.

The country's gold imports in value terms rose to $4.78 billion in May from $3.48 billion a year ago, a government official said, who was not allowed to speak to the media.

India had imported 78 tonnes of gold in May 2018.

Ficci hails govt for extending PM-KISAN scheme to all farmers

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Industry body Ficci Saturday hailed the Centre's decision to extend benefits under PM-KISAN scheme to all farmers, saying Indian agriculture is yet to realise its full potential. The government Friday decided to extend the PM-KISAN scheme to all 14.5 crore farmers in the country costing Rs 87,000 crore a year and also announced over Rs 10,000 crore pension scheme for five crore farmers, thereby fulfilling the BJP's poll promise.

The industry body also congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a new pension scheme for five crore farmers as one of the first decisions of his new administration.

With agriculture as top priority, Ficci has been advocating the extension of PM- KISAN to all farmers in its 100 days agenda to government.

The government had announced Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Siddhi (PMKSS) in the interim Budget to provide Rs 6,000 per year to about 12.5 crore small farmers holding land up to 2 hectares.

Sodexo launches multi-benefit pass in India

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Employee benefits firm Sodexo has launched Multi-Benefit Pass, which is a solution that can be used for not just meal-benefits but also for fuel or other purchases. The card will have a pin facility for meal benefits while the chip facility can be used for the other benefits offered in partnership with RuPay (National Payments Corporation of India).

Suvodeep Das, VP-Marketing for Sodexo BRS India, said that the idea of the product is to use one single card for multiple transactions by an employee. RuPay has a 3.6 million network in India.

"There is no such solution at present where one card can be used for multiple types of transactions. We wanted to bring that ease to the employee benefits space," he added.

Das said that the card will have multiple virtual wallets which can be used for meal benefits, fuel or telecom. Further, if companies want to offer digital gifting options to employee, the virtual wallet can be recharged for the particular amount during festivals like Diwali or Christmas.

However, he clarified that clients who want special gift cards can continue to get those from Sodexo as part of the gifting and recognition solutions.

This is the first such 2-in-1 card in India. Das said that their mobile application could be used for using the benefits of the card.

Sodexo offers gift cards and meal cards. At present, while the Sodexo meal card works on a propriety network in compliance with the Reserve Bank of India guidelines, the gift cards are accepted on the RuPay network for 3.6 million retail outlets and 90,000 major online portals.

"More than 75 percent of our consumers use our application frequently. We are hoping that this can be replicated with the new solution as well," he said.

With Sodexo Multi-Benefit Pass, the company aims to cut down the hassle for employees to collate and submit bills.

Nalin Bansal, Head of RuPay, NCMC (National Common Mobility Card) and NFS (National Financial Switch), NPCI said: "Prepaid cards is one of our core business under RuPay portfolio. As part of our strategy, we have increased our focus on the non-bank prepaid issuers and have developed a fast-track, seamless and cost effective onboarding process."

Sodexo Meal Pass is currently accepted across 100,000 plus points in 1,700 locations. The company has more than 11,000 clients in the public and private sector with 3 million daily users.

Ind-Ra expects FY19 GDP growth at 6.9%, lower than CSO estimate

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India's GDP growth during the fiscal 2018-19 is expected at 6.9 percent, marginally lower than CSO's advance estimate of 7 percent, rating agency Ind-Ra Monday said and urged the new government to take short-term measures to arrest slowdown in the economy.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) will be releasing the quarterly GDP estimate for the quarter January-March (Q4FY19), 2019 and provisional annual estimates for 2018-19 on May 31.

"Ind-Ra expects FY19 GDP growth to be 6.9 percent as against the 2018-19 advance estimate of 7 percent," it said. The GDP growth was 7.2 percent during 2017-18.

In a release, India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) said it expects 4QFY19 GDP growth to decelerate to 6.3 percent from 6.6 percent in previous quarter.

Clearly, Ind-Ra said 2018-19 will be the second consecutive year of an economic slowdown in India.

Arresting the slowdown and reviving the economy will be the first challenge for the new government, it said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be taking oath of office on May 30 for a second time after BJP-led NDA secured majority in the just concluded general elections.

"In Ind-Ra's opinion, the new government will have to devise and execute both short-term and medium-to-long-term measures to arrest the slowdown.

"While cyclical challenges can be addressed through short-term measures, the need of the hour is to address the structural challenges plaguing the Indian economy," it said.

It further said that although little can be done with regard to the global trade environment, certainly a more proactive policy intervention could be pursued to aggressively revive investment.

Meanwhile, private sector lender ICICI Bank in a research report said the immediate priorities of the government should be focused on agricultural sector especially improving farm terms of trade, supporting systemic credit growth not just for banking sector but for the Non Banking Financial Company (NBFC) sector as well.

Growth rates to stay weak but a combination of strong government policy support and benign monetary policy environment should lead to recovery in growth prospects towards the second half of this fiscal year, it said.

According to the report, short term policy priorities of the new government should include, agricultural price stability measures, supporting system credit growth especially to small industry, and provision of adequate liquidity and accommodative policy environment among others.

Long term policy priorities should include, land and natural resource related measures, labour related measures, capital related measures, productivity related measures and sector-wise reforms, ICICI Bank's report added.

US-China trade tensions aren't helping FDI in India as expected, says report

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Foreign direct investment (FDI) in India has been declining, even though recent US-China trade tensions and the increasing working population should ideally make the world's fastest-growing economy attractive for investors. This could be because of investors' pre-election nerves and also because of recent protectionist 

Earlier this year, the government announced new rules for e-commerce companies like Amazon and Walmart with respect to FDI to protect the interests of millions of India's small businessmen. Later in February, it was announced that an oil refinery project backed by Saudi Arabia worth $44 billion would be moved from its present place to a new location as farmers opposed the project.

On the other hand, the report noted that the Foxconn Technology Group recently announced that it would start manufacturing Apple's latest models in India. With tension brewing between the US and China, the two largest economies in the world, it may prove to be beneficial for both Apple and Foxconn to move their base to India.

"India definitely needs to attract investments in manufacturing and other sectors. There are huge opportunities for it, with western companies having second thoughts about their Chinese operations. If India could provide an alternative, it would have a great advantage," Vivek Wadhwa, professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Silicon Valley, told the wire agency.

To boost its investment to GDP ratio from 30 percent to 40 percent and see double-digit growth, according to Girija Pande, a former TCS CEO. "We have seen China and East Asian economies grow at such fast rates of growth with that kind of investment levels," he said.

The publication noted that though India's progress is notable as it jumped 23 spots to 77 in the World Bank's ease of doing business ranking in 2019, but old labour laws, long land acquisition processes, red tape and foreign exchange limitations are still in its way. The report said that to grow at over 8 percent, more FDI is crucial.

"It isn't much of a stretch to think that even a partial loosening of restrictions in large sectors like banking or multi-brand retail, could be enough to lift FDI inflows to over 2 percent of GDP from around 1.5 percent currently," Shilan Singh, an economist with Capital Economics (Asia) told the publication.

Centre procures 29 mn tonne of wheat so far this marketing year

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The Centre has purchased 29.26 million tonne of wheat from farmers in the ongoing 2019-20 marketing year so far, according to latest government data.

The Centre has set the wheat procurement target at 35.7 million tonne for the 2019-20 marketing year (April-March) on hopes of a record 100 million tonne production this year.

State-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) along with state government agencies buy wheat at the minimum support price to meet the demand of welfare schemes.

Wheat MSP has been fixed at Rs 1,840 per quintal for this year.

As per the data, the FCI and state agencies have procured 29.26 million tonne of wheat so far this year.

About 12.1 million tonne of wheat has been purchased in Punjab and 9 million tonne in Haryana so far in the current marketing year.

Around 5.3 million tonne of the grain has been procured in Madhya Pradesh, 1.93 million tonne in Uttar Pradesh and 8,59,000 tonne in Rajasthan in the said period.

It may be noted that FCI is facing space crunch to keep the new wheat crop because of huge stock in the godowns. As a result, the agency has decided to offload 10 million tonne wheat to bulk consumers during this fiscal.

Last year, the government had procured 358 lakh tonne, surpassing the target of 320 lakh tonne. Wheat procurement normally starts from April.

Bimal Jalan panel on RBI's capital size to submit report next month

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A high-level panel led by former RBI governor Bimal Jalan, set up to decide the appropriate capital reserves that the central bank should maintain, is likely to submit its report next month.

The six-member Jalan panel was appointed on December 26, 2018 to review the Economic Capital Framework for the RBI.

The broadly finalised report on RBI economic capital framework will be submitted to the apex bank in June, sources said after meeting of the panel on Monday here.

Prior to the submission of its report there will be one more meeting in June, sources said.

The panel has already got extension beyond three months term. The committee was to submit its report in 90 days from the first day of its meeting, which held on January 8.

The other key members of the committee include Rakesh Mohan, former deputy governor of RBI as the vice-chairman, finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg, RBI deputy governor NS Vishwanathan, and two RBI central board members -- Bharat Doshi and Sudhir Mankad.

The panel has been entrusted with the task of reviewing the best practices followed by central banks worldwide in making assessment and provisions for risks.

The panel, having former economic affairs secretary Rakesh Mohan as its vice chairman, will propose a suitable profit distribution policy, taking into account all the likely situations of the RBI, including the requirement of holding more provisions than required.

The government and the RBI under previous governor Urjit Patel had been at loggerheads over the Rs 9.6 lakh crore surplus capital with the central bank.

The finance ministry was of the view that the buffer of 28 per cent of gross assets maintained by the central bank is well above the global norm of around 14 per cent. Following this, the RBI board in its meeting on November 19, 2018 decided to constitute a panel to examine Economic Capital Framework.

In the past, the issue of the ideal size of the Reserve Bank of India reserves was examined by three committees -- V Subrahmanyam in 1997, Usha Thorat in 2004 and YH Malegam in 2013.

While the Subrahmanyam panel recommended for building a 12 per cent contingency reserve, the Thorat panel suggested it should be maintained at a higher 18 per cent of the total assets of the central bank.

The RBI board did not accept the recommendation of the Thorat committee and decided to continue with the recommendation of the Subrahmanyam committee.

The Malegam panel said the RBI should transfer an adequate amount of its profit to the contingency reserves annually but did not ascribe any particular number.

According to a report of by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the Jalan committee is likely to identify an excess buffer of up to Rs 3 lakh crore. This includes the excess capital in contingency reserves and also revaluation of reserves.

Halving of the contingency reserves to a level of 3.25 per cent from the present 6.5 per cent will release Rs 1.282 lakh crore, the report said, pointing out that the level is still 50 per cent higher than what central banks in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping have.

Similarly, halving the yield cover hike to 4.5 per cent from the present 9 per cent will release another Rs 1.170 lakh crore, it said.

Stimulus led growth shows signs of stabilisation in China; positive for global growth

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China’s latest macro data release brings a pleasant reprieve for global markets. While GDP growth of 6.4 percent in Q1 CY19 is a shade better than consensus, other economic data like retail sales and industrial production have fared better.

Chinese industrial production grew 8.5 percent year-on-year in March, where a faster clip was seen across sectors mainly commodities (metals and chemicals), machinery and transport equipment. For the first quarter of the year, industrial production rose 6.5 percent YoY.

Economic stabilisation on cards

Since it’s a single set of data, it’s early to say if a credible trend of economic recovery is in the making. Still it gives weight to recent assessment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that economic stabilisation is on the cards.

Recently, IMF modestly upgraded its 2019 growth outlook for China while it had majorly downgraded the assessment for other major economies. It expects global growth to gradually pick-up in second half of 2019 as ongoing buildup of policy stimulus in China should help.

What made it work?

Some factors that dragged Chinese growth, particularly investment, over the last few quarters have been the regulatory measures to control debt and shadow financial institutions, supply-side reforms leading to closing of various manufacturing units causing pollution and the US-China trade war. While the last factor is still taking shape, there has been an apparent relaxation on other factors recently.

Total social financing, a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy, surged to 8.2 trillion yuan in the first quarter compared 5.9 trillion yuan a year ago. Liquidity measures announced over last year in the form of Reserve Requirement Ratio (RRR) cuts have been supportive.

This justifies our earlier assessment that there seems to be a pause in deleveraging efforts and in fact the economy could re-leverage in 2019 after a decline in 2018. Statement from the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) underlined that deleveraging targets have been achieved and that leverage levels are expected to remain stable over the near term.

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What is concerning?

It’s noteworthy that China’s leverage ratio (debt-to-GDP ratio) was 244 percent in 2018, with corporate leverage ratio at 154 percent. Growing credit fuelled growth makes the sustainable economic recovery questionable. While credit growth seems to be helping real estate investment (11.8 percent YoY), fixed-asset investment is still mediocre at 6.3 percent in Q1. Consumer durables, particularly automobile and mobile sales, continue to witness de-growth over the last few months.  This means trends for both consumption and investment are still uninspiring.

So what next?

One needs to watch out for the impact of recently announced fiscal stimulus ($300 billion) on the economy. Monetary policy and credit measures seem to have jump-started the economy. However, given the leverage levels, onus is now on fiscal measures and global demand conditions. Recovery, in our opinion, is fragile and going forward is expected to be led by consumption. Having said that, recent data provides some reprieve from the key risk factor -- case of a hard landing in China.

Financial markets seems to have dumped the possibility of hard landing. Chinese local equity market has outperformed global markets in the last four months. The Shanghai index is up 33 percent from its December 2018 lows. Key Australia-based mining stocks such as BHP and Rio Tinto have also strongly performed in recent times, partly on hopes of a Chinese recovery.

Going forward, trade resolution between the US and China should help restore the supply-demand imbalance in commodities and possibly help mining stocks. A key positive takeaway from the relaxation in China supply-side reforms is that downstream industrial chemical companies in India may benefit from lower prices of key raw materials such as hydrofluoric acid, caustic soda and phenol.

UGC-AICTE merger proposal sent into cold storage

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The merger proposal between the University Grants Commission and All India Council for Technical Education has now been sent into cold storage due to a lack of consensus on the structure of the new entity.

The original proposal floated in 2017, included the merger of these two entities to form one higher education regulatory body.

“The proposal is not under consideration anymore. The structure of the merger was not agreeable by the parties,” said an official.

Officials from both the regulatory bodies were unable to come to a consensus on several issues: who would head the new body, how many members would be a part of the board as well as what actions would be taken against blacklisted institutions.

There was also a view that considering India would have more than 70,000 educational institutions, one single body would be unable to handle the huge volumes.

The two...

UGC is a body that helps to maintain standards in university education across the country. It was set up in 1956 and has decentralised its operations by setting up six regional centres at Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bhopal, Guwahati and Bangalore. UGC is headquartered in Delhi. Currently, there are 907 universities in India.

AICTE was set up in November 1945 as a national-level apex advisory body to conduct a survey on the facilities available for technical education and to promote development in the country in a coordinated and integrated manner. It serves as an accreditation body for engineering, management, hospitality and other technical institutes across the country.

Any institute in the engineering and management segment who wants to offer degrees/diplomas to students is required to be approved by AICTE.

... and their merger

Sources said the idea behind the merger of UGC and AICTE was to have one body in charge of accrediting all higher education institutions in the country. Most developed markets have a single regulatory body for approving the entry of new institutes as well as for maintaining the quality of education in the region.

A merger would have meant that each application for opening a new institute in the country would go to the Higher Education Regulatory Body. Depending on the type of the course, it would have either AICTE or UGC officials approving the programme.

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