The Indian economy is set to revert to its trend growth rate of 7.5 percent in the coming years as it bottoms out from the impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetization, a new World Bank report says.
The India Development Update, released today, is a biannual flagship publication of the World Bank which takes stock of the Indian economy. The current issue (March 2018), titled “India’s Growth Story” describes the state of the Indian economy, shares India’s growth experience and trajectory over the past several decades and provides a long-term perspective on India’s growth outlook. Over the last 50 years, the Update notes that India’s average growth has accelerated slowly but steadily across sectors – agriculture, industry and services – and become more stable. This is reflected in increasing labor productivity and total factor productivity. After growing far more rapidly before the global financial crisis, the economy has grown at an average rate of about 7 percent since 2008–09.
The Update centers around an assessment of what it will take for India to return to growth rates of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis. To sustain its growth path, India will need to keep a close eye on several factors to make the country more resilient to shocks: the changing landscape of open trade, reforms in the banking sector, strengthening financial institutions, and regulatory supervision of the financial sector. Deepening its structural reforms in the areas of health, education and service delivery will be critical for development of human capital required to sustain growth.
India’s GDP growth saw a temporary dip in the last two quarters of 2016-17 and the first quarter of 2017-18 due to demonetization and disruptions surrounding the initial implementation of GST. Economic activity has begun to stabilize since August 2017. India’s GDP growth is projected to reach 6.7 percent in 2017-18 and accelerate to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively. While services will continue to remain the main driver of economic growth; industrial activity is poised to grow, with manufacturing expected to accelerate following the implementation of the GST, and agriculture will likely grow at its long-term average growth rate.
India’s growth in recent years has been supported by prudent macroeconomic policy: a new inflation targeting framework, energy subsidy reforms, fiscal consolidation, higher quality of public expenditure and a stable balance of payment situation. In addition, recent policy reforms have helped India improve the business environment, ease inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) and improve credit behavior.
The Update points to the positive impulse expected from India’s novel GST system which, while remaining more complex than comparable systems in other countries, is likely to improve the domestic flow of goods and services, contribute to the formalization of the economy and sustainably enhance growth.
“India’s long-term growth has become more steady, stable, diversified and resilient. In the long-run, for higher growth to be sustainable and inclusive, India needs to use land and water, which are increasingly becoming scarce resources, more productively, make growth more inclusive, and strengthen its public sector to meet the challenges of a fast growing, globalizing and increasingly middle-class economy,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India.
Higher growth requires reforms
Despite the recent momentum, attaining a growth rate of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis will require addressing several structural challenges. India needs to durably recover its two lagging engines of growth – private investments and exports – while maintaining its hard-won macroeconomic stability. Crucial steps in this process include cleaning up banks’ balance sheets, realizing the expected growth and fiscal dividend from the GST, and continuing the integration into the global economy.
“Durable revival in private investments and exports would be crucial for India achieving a sustained high growth of 8 percent and above,” said Poonam Gupta, Lead Economist and the main author of the report. “This will require continued impetus for structural reforms. Resorting to countercyclical policies will not help spur sustained growth and India should not compromise its hard-earned fiscal discipline in order to accelerate growth,” she added.
Priority areas for reform
Investments: The rate of investment needs to accelerate. Private investment in India is constrained by several factors including issues related to past leverages, credit availability, market demand, and policy uncertainty. Understanding and relieving the generic, spatial, or sector-specific constraints to investment growth is important. Further policy measures should aim at assuring an efficient mix of public and private resources to effectively use scarce public funds and crowd-in private investment. Private sector investment in particular needs to be enhanced, through measures that assure a favorable investment climate while reducing policy uncertainty.
Bank Credit: Reviving bank credit to support growth is important. The banking sector is experiencing high balance sheet stress. The genesis of the problem can be traced to the period of exuberant bank credit growth during 2004–08, and to the response to the global financial crisis, which entailed evergreening of loans. Decisive reforms will be needed to enable the Indian banking sector to help finance India’s growth aspirations. The implementation of the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is an important step towards improving the credit behavior; and the recent efforts towards recapitalization have the potential to ease stress on the banking sector and reinvigorate bank credit. However, they need to be followed by wider reforms. Additional measures could include a consolidation of public-sector banks, revising their incentive structure to align more closely with their commercial performance, ensuring a level playing field for private banks, and opening the space for greater competition.
Exports: Export growth rate remains well below the levels registered during the boom years of 2004-2008. The Update points out that India’s export growth has lagged global growth in recent years. Among the many preconditions for India to reverse this pattern are an infrastructural boost to bring it on par with the world’s current manufacturing hubs. In addition, reforms to land, labor and financial markets would be needed to assure the continued competitive supply and use of key production inputs. Finally, building on recent improvements to its doing business ranking, India can benefit from further strengthening its competitive business environment.
Leverage external conditions: As India has increased the level of integration with the rest of the world in recent years, it could benefit from the revival in the global economy and trade volumes, both of which are poised to grow at healthy rates in the near-term. Leveraging the global recovery will be key for India to elevate its growth rates. While oil prices pose less of a risk for the Indian economy, the expected normalization of monetary policy by the US and other advanced economies are likely to tighten financing conditions.