The Union cabinet on Wednesday got down to business after a two-week gap, clearing decisions focused on building infrastructure, providing relief to exporters, and allowing further disinvestment in Coal India Ltd—all measures that should boost the reformist credentials of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government.
The decisions will, among other things, benefit 34 stalled road projects; allow some exporters to receive bank loans at an interest rate three percentage points lower than what they would otherwise have paid; and put the government on course to meet its disinvestment target for the year by clearing the sale of a 10% stake in Coal India.
D.K. Srivastava, chief policy advisor at EY India, said the decisions will have an incremental impact on the economy. “The government should focus on taking faster decisions like these to stimulate demand. The 7th Pay Commission recommendations will also push demand next year,” he said.
The 7th Pay Commission is scheduled to submit its report to finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday.
Roads and infrastructure
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been allowed to extend the concession period for current projects in build-operate-transfer mode that are incomplete for no fault of the developer. It has also been given the option of paying a compensation for delays. The move will benefit 34 stuck projects. The government also allowed segregating construction cost from civil cost, such as land acquisition and pre-construction activities, for the purpose of appraisal and approval of national highway projects.
In a statement, the government said that multiple stages of examination and appraisal of the same project by different ministries, departments and committees cause delays in award of national highways and empowered the ministry of road transport and highways to decide on any change in the contours of a project and approve projects with civil cost up to Rs.1,000 crore.
While speaking at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) National Strategy Day on India in New Delhi on 4 November, urban development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said that the government would put in place a single-window clearance mechanism to provide quick approvals for development projects by the end of the month. He had also said that the government has created a unified platform for clearances.
The move should boost much-needed investments in infrastructure, where delays related to land acquisition, availability of fuel (for power projects), and environmental clearances have wreaked havoc on the financials of developers and banks. Many lenders have now become wary of lending to infrastructure projects; at least 25% of their non-performing assets are related to infrastructure projects.
Wednesday’s announcements will help, but more needs to be done, said an expert.
“Though these are good initiatives, we need to have a technology-driven approval system so that there is transparency and we also need robust dispute resolution. Else, we will still have stalled projects in the future,” said P.R. Ramesh, chairman, Deloitte Haskins and Sells Llp.
On Tuesday, Jaitley invited sovereign wealth funds of the United Arab Emirates to invest in India’s National Infrastructure and Investment Fund, which was set up in July with a corpus of Rs.20,000 crore to assist development of infrastructure projects.
The cabinet also approved a policy on bilateral assistance to fast-track flow of overseas investments to infrastructure projects.
“We have today approved a policy on bilateral official development assistance for development cooperation with bilateral partners and modified the existing guidelines,” power minister Piyush Goyal said at a press briefing.
The decision will provide a flexible regime and enable the external affairs and finance ministries to enter into bilateral agreements with various countries which will help India generate large amounts of investment at concessional terms for long durations, the minister said.
It will also help India in developing infrastructure in an expeditious manner, he said.
The decision is aimed at further liberalizing activities under bilateral cooperation agreements with various countries. India has bilateral cooperation agreements with countries such as Japan, the US and Germany. It is developing the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project with Japan’s assistance.
The minister said that the arrangement would largely focus on infrastructure development and will ensure that 50% of the loan is of an untied nature so that it can also encourage more Indian companies to participate in the projects which are awarded through international competitive bidding.
“... the overall framework has been made more liberal to allow faster flow of funds into India through bilateral cooperation with newer countries,” he added.
According to the government statement, acceptance of special loans for capital-intensive projects and other projects of a special nature would be subject to conditions, including the stipulation that the minimum assistance from a bilateral partner would be $1 billion a year, of which at least 50% shall be normal untied loans.
Another condition is that not more than 30% of the total value of goods and services should be required to be sourced from the funding country, it said. Also, the annual rate of interest on special loans should not exceed 0.3% and the tenure should not be less than 40 years (with a 10-year moratorium on repayment).
Individual projects with a minimum project cost of $250 million will qualify for such special loans, it said.
To help exporters become internationally competitive at a time when India’s exports have contracted for the 11th consecutive month, the Cabinet approved a revised scheme for exporters, with an annual outgo of around Rs.2,700 crore, to provide them cheaper credit.
The long-pending so-called interest subvention scheme which expired on 31 March last year has now been replaced by a similar scheme (called the interest equalization scheme) for a period of five years starting 1 April this year. The impact of the scheme on export promotion will be reviewed after three years through a study by one of the Indian Institutes of Management, based upon which further continuation of the scheme will be decided.
Mint reported on 5 October that the scheme may be notified for a period of five years, subject to a review after three years.
All shipments by small and medium enterprises and labour-intensive exports of 416 commodities, including engineering, handicrafts, readymade garments and processed food, will be provided a subsidy of 3 percentage points in rupee credit.
“Financial implication of the proposed scheme is estimated to be in the range of Rs.2,500 crore to Rs.2,700 crore per year. However, the actual financial implication would depend on the level of exports and the claims filed by the exporters with the banks. Funds to the tune of Rs.1,625 crore under the non-plan head are available under Demand of Grants for 2015-2016, which would be made available to RBI (Reserve Bank of India) during 2015-16,” a statement from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) said.
The CCEA approved the disinvestment of 10% stake in Coal India out of the government’s shareholding of 78.65% in the firm through the offer for sale route amid growing concern over its ability to meet its Rs.69,500 crore disinvestment target for 2015-16. The government sold 10% stake in Coal India for more than Rs.25,000 crore through an offer for sale in January. At the current level of market capitalization, a 10% stake sale could fetch about Rs.21,137.71 crore.
So far, the government has garnered Rs.12,642 crore through disinvestment in Rural Electrification Corp Ltd, Power Finance Corporation Ltd, Dredging Corp of India Ltd and Indian Oil Corp Ltd. The volatile equity market and the global meltdown in commodity prices have affected its ability to aggressively push for divestment of commodity stocks.
For the railways, the government committed a sum of Rs.2,774 crore for a rail-cum-road bridge over the Ganga in Munger, Bihar, which has seen no progress in the last 17 years and set a deadline of mid-2016 to open the line. Power minister Piyush Goyal said that the announcement after the Bihar elections by the central government showed its commitment to the people of the state.
This is the second major announcement regarding railways in the state after the National Democratic Alliance lost the assembly elections. On 10 November, the Indian Railways awarded two contracts to General Electric Co. and Alstom to set up diesel and electric locomotive factories, respectively, in Bihar; the estimated cost of the projects is about Rs.40,000 crore.
The cabinet also approved doubling of three rail lines and addition of two rail lines to the East Coast Railway zone in the states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh at a combined cost of around Rs.8,000 crore. The doubling will happen for the Jagdalpur-Koraput section of 110.22km, the Koraput-Singapur Road section of 164.56km and the Kottavalasa-Koraput section of 189.27km.
Additionally, a third and a fourth line between Budhapank and Salegaon via Rajathgarh of 85km each will also be constructed. The project is likely to be completed in the next three years and meet the demands of ever-increasing freight traffic between these sections.
“We believe these four lines will give a boost to the power sector, the coal sector, the steel sector, and to exports, also adding to the utilization of Vizag port,” said Goyal. He added that the other major advantage of these lines will be the impact on the environment, as they will reduce freight movement on roads.
In a first-of-its-kind direct subsidy payment to farmers, the government has approved payment of a production subsidy to sugarcane growers.
For the sugar season that began in October, farmers will be paid Rs.4.50 per quintal of cane crushed by mills and the money will be paid directly to farmers, the cabinet statement said.
The move will ensure timely payment to farmers by mills and reduce their cost of procurement, the statement added.
The subsidy will be paid to farmers on behalf of the mills and will be adjusted against the cane price payable to the farmers towards the fair and remunerative price (FRP), including arrears relating to previous years, the statement said.
FRP is the government-mandated minimum to be paid by mills for procuring cane. The current FRP is fixed at Rs.230 per quintal.
The CCEA approved an initial public offering for Cochin Shipyard, to offload a 10% stake in the country’s largest ship-building and repair facility under its control. Cochin Shipyard’s turnover has increased 5-fold from Rs.373 crore in 2005-06 to Rs.1,859 crore in 2014-15. Its net profit has more than doubled during the period from Rs.94 crore to Rs.235 crore.
The government ratified the articles of agreement to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). “Establishment of the AIIB will help India and other signatory countries raise and avail resources for their infrastructure and sustainable development projects. India stands to become the second largest shareholder of AIIB after China. This is a historic opportunity for India to play a prominent role in the governance of a multilateral institution,” the statement said.
The cabinet also approved the determination of a marketing margin for supply of domestic gas to urea and LPG producers. Calling the move a structural reform, an official statement said “this decision is likely to enhance transparency and provide an element of certainty for future investments in the gas infrastructure sector”.
Marketing margin is the charge levied by a gas marketing company on its consumers over and above the cost or basic price of gas for taking on the additional risk and cost associated with marketing gas.
At present, different transporters are charging different marketing margins for supply of natural gas. With this decision, there will be uniformity in the marketing margin on domestic gas charged by gas marketers.
The statement added that there would be a reduction in marketing margin paid by urea and LPG producers as a result of the decision.
British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed India’s decision to increase FDI limits in the insurance sector to 49 per cent and said it would result in British insurers investing around approximately 238 million pounds in their Indian joint ventures.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Cameron met here to discuss a host of issues.
Noting that the Indian government recently permitted foreign direct investment (FDI) upto 49 percent in the insurance sector, Cameron noted that several British insurers have announced a number of agreements to increase their investments in their joint ventures in India.
“These agreements would amount to approximately 238 million pounds of Foreign Direct Investment in the first instance subject to regulatory approvals,” a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting said.
“This will support the ongoing development of the Indian insurance and reinsurance sectors, which are key elements in promoting sustainable economic growth,” the statement added.
The passing of the insurance bill paved the way for Lloyd’s of London to establish their presence in India and provide local access to Lloyd’s specialist reinsurance services in India.
Life, non-life and health insurers of Britain have their joint ventures in India.
Once the regulatory approvals are given UK based Standard Life, Bupa and Aviva would invest a combined 238 million pounds FDI in their Indian joint ventures.
In addition Prudential and Legal & General, and insurance brokers, Howden, Willis and JLT, continue to grow their operations in India.
Indian insurance regulator is in the process of coming out with regulations to give effect to the legal provisions enabling hike in FDI cap to 49 per cent from the earlier 26 percent limits.
The two prime ministers welcomed HSBC’s “Skills for life” initiative in India, a 10 million pound programme to skill 75,000 disadvantaged young people and children over 5 years.
Source: Economic Times
India has moved up one position to become the world’s seventh most valued ‘nation brand’, with an increase of 32 per cent in its brand value to $2.1 billion.
The US remains on the top with a valuation of $19.7 billion, followed by China and Germany at the second and the third positions respectively, as per the annual report on world’s most valuable nation brands compiled by Brand Finance.
The UK is ranked 4th, Japan is at fifth position and France is sixth on the list. While India and France have moved up one position each since last year, all the top-five countries have retained their respective places.
However, the surge of 32 per cent in India’s ‘nation brand value’ is the highest among all the top-20 countries on the list.
China has retained its second position despite a decline of one per cent in its brand value to $6.3 billion.
Brand Finance said it measures the strength and value of the nation brands of 100 leading countries using a method based on the royalty relief mechanism employed to value the world’s largest companies.
The nation brand valuation is based on five year forecasts of sales of all brands in each nation and follows a complex process. The Gross domestic product (GDP) is used as a proxy for total revenues.
The report also said that India’s ‘Incredible India’ slogan has worked well, while Germany suffered due to the Volkswagen crisis.
About the US, the report said it remains a powerful brand with an inviting business climate.
“However its value comes in large part from the country’s sheer economic scale… The US’ world-leading higher education system and the soft power arising from its dominance of the music and entertainment industries are significant contributors too.
“This soft power will help the US to retain the most valuable nation brand for some time after China’s seemingly imminent rise to become the world’s biggest economy,” it added.
The study further said that China’s recent stock market turbulence and slowing growth will also extend the US’ tenure of the top spot.
Among Brics nations, India is the only country to have witnessed an increase in its brand value with all others Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa seeing a dip in their respective brand valuations.
India is the second most valued among these emerging economies after China, followed by Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
Source: Economic Times
Giving the much needed reforms impetus to the economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government on Tuesday announced Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) reforms in as many as 15 sectors.
According to the government’s release, “The crux of these reforms is to further ease, rationalise and simplify the process of foreign investments in the country and to put more and more FDI proposals on automatic route instead of government route where time and energy of the investors is wasted.”
These FDI reforms are set to benefit sectors such as agriculture and animal husbandry, plantation, defence, broadcasting, civil aviation and manufacturing. “Further refining of foreign investments in key sectors like construction where 50 million houses for poor are to be built. Opening up the manufacturing Sector for wholesale, retail and e-Commerce so that the industries are motivated to Make In India and sell it to the customers here instead of importing from other countries,” the release added.
The proposed reforms also enhance the limit of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) from current Rs 3,000 crore to Rs 5,000 crore. The proposal also contains many other long pending corrections including those being felt by the limited liability partnerships as well as NRI owned companies who seem motivated to invest in India. Few other proposals seek to enhance the sectoral caps so that foreign investors don’t have to face fragmented ownership issues and get motivated to deploy their resources and technology with full force.
India got FDI of $19.39 billion in the April-June period, according to government data, up 29.5% over the year earlier. The Modi government has been pushing hard to drum up overseas investment, easing FDI regulations in various sectors including the railways,medical devices, insurance, pension, construction and defence.
Last week, ET had reported that the government plans to launch a series of policy reforms, signalling its intent to get moving again on economic changes and putting the Opposition on notice before Parliament convenes for the winter session.
Key to the Narendra Modi government’s renewed development push will be power, labour and infrastructure, three senior government officials had told ET. Among the highlights are a revival package for power distribution companies, freeing up labour rules and a possible push for the railways, ET had said in its report.
The road map for the phasing out of corporate tax exemptions and reduction in the tax rate to 25% is being drawn up. Besides this, the Startup India, Standup India plan and the rollout of the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) are also being worked on.
A simpler foreign direct investment (FDI) policy, further easing of the external commercial borrowing (ECB) regime and changes in the public-private partnership (PPP) framework to attract more private investment could also be announced.
Source: Economic Times
Stating that India's growth will benefit from recent policy reforms, a consequent pickup in investment, and lower commodity prices, the IMF projected a 7.5 per cent growth rate for India in 2016, against China's 6.3 per cent. However for the current 2015 year, the IMF has projected 7.3 percent growth rate, which is 0.2 per cent less than its projection made for the year in July.
In emerging economies, growth will decline for the fifth year in a row in 2015, before strengthening next year, the IMF said in its report 'G-20: Global prospects and challenges' issued ahead of the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey next week.
"Growth in China is expected to decline as excesses in real estate, credit, and investment continue to unwind. India's growth will benefit from recent policy reforms, a consequent pickup in investment, and lower commodity prices," the report said. In Brazil, weak business and consumer confidence amid difficult political conditions and a needed tightening in the macroeconomic policy stance are expected to weaken domestic demand, with investment declining particularly rapidly.
In Russia, economic distress reflects the interaction of falling oil prices and international sanctions with preexisting structural weaknesses. Emerging-economy growth is projected to rebound in 2016, reflecting mostly a less deep recession or an improvement of conditions in countries in economic distress (eg. - Brazil, Russia, and some countries in Latin America and the Middle East), the report said.
"Strong domestic demand in India should also be a positive factor in 2016," IMF said. "However, if the world economy's transitions are not successfully navigated, global growth could be derailed," it warned. Prominent risks include: negative spillovers from China's growth transition; further falls in commodity prices; adverse corporate balance-sheet effects and funding challenges related to dollar appreciation and tighter global financing conditions; and capital flow reversals.
Any of these could substantially weaken the recovery, particularly in emerging and developing countries, the report said.