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India: Donald Trump's next target for trade tussles

Publication Date: 12 Mar 2019 - By Mike Gallagher By Mike G.

Environmental, Social & Governance Macro Multi Asset Asia ex-China USA


With the US-China trade war on a temporary truce, President Donald Trump is starting to go after his next target. He decided to end preferential trade treatment for India, which allows a duty exemption on more than $5bn worth of its goods coming into the US. This comes on the grounds of a lack of market access from India, especially at the expense of US dairy suppliers and medical device manufacturers. 

Indian officials downplayed the impact of the move, saying the preferential treatment brought benefits of just around $200m annually. India exported around $50bn worth of goods to the US in 2017, and was the largest beneficiary of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) import scheme (Figure 1). Being one of the largest economies of the world, this preferential treatment - which is meant to help develop the markets in the least-developed countries - does seem dispensable. However, it is symbolic of the strategic relationship between the two countries in their common animosity toward China. 

Competitiveness at risk

While the stated benefits of the GSP to India are about $200m, India loses export competitiveness for goods worth $5.6bn, especially to markets such as Mexico that have FTAs with the US, or others like Bangladesh and Vietnam, which continue to enjoy GSP benefits. Some of the industries that saw large amounts of GSP benefit and may likely be impacted include organic chemicals, plastics and cement. 

More importantly, India predominantly exports intermediate and semi-manufactured goods to the US under the GSP, and the loss of price advantage in these could mean a further setback for employment and jobs in the manufacturing sector. There will, however, be some offset from India’s efforts to diversify to Latin American, African as well as ASEAN markets.

Figures 1 and 2: India Is the Largest Beneficiary of the U.S. GSP Import Scheme (USD billions); Some Industries Receive Tariff Waivers for Over $500 Million Worth of Exports (USD millions)

Source: U.S. International Trade Commission Data Web, Continuum Economics

What matters even more will be the political impact, given the Indian national elections this year. Incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election has been in question because of his unpopular reforms such as demonetisation and introduction of GST. His foreign policy setbacks will only further add to the woes. 


We expect the impact of these measures to be non-uniform across sectors. While some exporters who face duty loss of 2-3% may face margin pressures, others who had a higher GSP tariff advantage may need targeted support. This could be a fiscal burden for the Indian economy, which is already struggling to remain on the path of fiscal consolidation.

However, as these changes may not take effect for another 60 days, we believe it opens the door for US-India trade negotiations – and a trade deal may be on the table. This will be more likely if India adopts a firm stance and imposes retaliatory tariffs on US goods, which were proposed in June 2018, but have been continually postponed and are now scheduled to go in effect on 1 April. 


I have no positions in any of the securities referenced in the contribution

I do not use any non-public, material information in this contribution

To the best of my knowledge, the views expressed in this contribution comply with UK law

I agree with the terms and conditions of ReachX

This contribution is for informational purpose and does not constitute investment advice nor is it an offer to sell or buy, nor is it a recommendation for any security.

Mike G.


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