India posts first trade surplus in 18 years as coronavirus hits imports
By Manoj Kumar and Aftab Ahmed
NEW DELHI, July 15 (Reuters) - India posted a trade surplus of $790 million in June, its first in over 18 years, with imports plunging as the coronavirus pandemic depressed domestic demand for crude oil, gold and other industrial products, reflecting a slowing economy.
Indian exports and imports have been falling since March and worsening India-China relations, shrinking global demand and disruptions in supply chains are likely to pressure the trade outlook over the next few quarters, analysts said.
Asia's third largest economy is projected to contract by up to 5% this financial year, beginning April, from an earlier government estimate of nearly 6% growth as an over two-month-long COVID-19 lockdown has hit economic activities and consumer demand.
Merchandise imports INIMP=ECI contracted 47.59% in June to $21.11 billion from a year ago, while exports fell 12.41% to $21.91 billion, leading to a marginal trade surplus, data released by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday showed.
India last posted a trade surplus - a slim $10 million - in January 2002, according to Refinitiv data.
Ajay Sahai, director general of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said a marginal trade surplus was "good news."
"However, we will have to analyse to what extent lockdown, import restrictions and slowdown in the domestic economy have contributed to the fall in imports," he said, referring to a fall in raw material imports by exporters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pushing for import substitutions and has so far resisted industry pressure to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union.
Imports of crude oil, electronic items, gold jewellery and other products fell sharply during the three months to end June.
In June, crude oil imports fell 55.29% year-on-year to $4.93 billion due to a tumble in global commodity prices as well as local demand, while gold imports were down by more than 77% to $608.7 million.
Total merchandise imports fell by more than 50% to $60.44 billion during April-June quarter while exports were down 36.71% from the year-ago period to $51.32 billion, the data showed.
India went into lockdown in late March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, forcing manufacturers to close factories and fire millions of contract workers.
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar, Aftab Ahmed and Nidhi Verma Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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