India's trade deficit widened in January pushed by a rise in gold imports, while exports growth remained low, deepening concerns for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wants to accelerate economic expansion ahead of elections.
Modi, who has set a target of doubling India’s share of world exports and reducing its dependence on imports to create jobs, faces criticism from businesses for not doing enough in the last five years.
India's goods exports have shown little growth since Modi took charge in 2014, as small exporters - contributing nearly 35 percent to total exports - have been hit hard by rising input costs after the chaotic launch of national sales tax in 2017.
In January, merchandise exports rose 3.74 percent from a year earlier to $26.36 billion, while imports were up 0.01 percent to $41.09 billion, data released by the commerce ministry on Friday showed.
The gold imports in January rose 38.16 percent year-on-year to $2.31 billion, widening the trade deficit to $14.73 billion compared to $13.08 billion in the previous month.
Indian exports of textiles, agricultural products and engineering items have been hit hard due to a shortage of bank credit and delay in refund of input credit under the goods and services tax, exporters said.
"Exports by small companies could have done much better if supported by flow of bank credit," said Ajay Sahai, director general of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations.
He said Indian exports face a tough time in 2019 following a slowdown in global economic growth and trade.
India's total April-January exports, including goods and services, are estimated to touch $440 billion, up 9.07 percent from a year ago, while imports were estimated at $530.55 billion, up 10.74 percent, the government statement said.
India's goods exports, which had touched $314.4 billion in 2013/14, have been slowly recovering after falling to $262.3 billion in 2015/16.
US-China trade war
Exporters said Indian exports have not benefited much from the U.S.-China trade war, while countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh have increased their share in export of items like textiles to the United States, gaining from a fall in Chinese exports.
On Thursday, trade officials of India and the United States met in Delhi and announced plans to boost bilateral trade in energy, aerospace, defence, pharmaceuticals and healthcare as part of continuing commercial dialogue.
India and the United States are at odds over a range of trade issues, from India's new rules on e-commerce that affect firms such as Amazon and Walmart to Indian data localisation and tariffs that U.S. President Donald Trump says are exceptionally high.
Indian goods exports to the United States rose 10.5 percent during April-Dec, marginally lower than 11.8 percent growth during a year ago period, while imports from the U.S. rose by more than 35 percent during that period, commerce ministry data showed.