On 28th September 2019, in a speech in United Nations General Assembly speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad said that India had “invaded and occupied” Kashmir by scrapping off Article 370 of Indian Constitution.[1] In retaliation, Indian Govt. threatened to ban, or impose high tariffs on, palm oil trade with Malaysia.[2]

Through this paper, the researcher attempts to show how a single political statement can influence the trade relations between countries and in turn their economies.

The researcher has undertaken the research on the assumption that Indian Govt. will highly increase the import tariffs on import of palmoil from Malaysia. In this paper, researcher analyses the impact on Indian and Malaysian economy under two conditions –

-Indian traders continue to purchase from Malaysia despite an increase in palm oil tariffs.

-Indian traders shift to other countries for purchasing palm oil.

It is important to know that for the fiscal year ending 31st March 2019, Malaysia’s imported from India goods worth $6.4 billion, while exported to India goods worth $10.8 billion.[3] Thus, Malaysia is in trade surplus with India of $4.4 billion. This is because India imports high-priced goods such as petroleum and palm oil at a large scale while India exports commodities such as sugar, wheat, rice, meat, etc.[4]In 2018, India imported palm oil worth $5.5 billion of which $1.3 billion was imported from Malaysia. This trade between the two countries constitutes 0.05% of India’s GDP and 0.41% of Malaysia’s GDP (GDP of Malaysia is $314bn while that of India is $2.5tn.).

A major limitation of the paper is the paucity of scholarly articles on the subject since the incident in question happened in October 2019.Therefore, the researcher has primarily relied upon newspaper articles to substantiate his arguments.

India Continues To Purchase From Malaysia Despite Increase In Tariffs

Indonesia and Malaysia constitute 85% of the total palm oil production, therefore the first response of Indian buyers is to buy palm oil from Indonesia but that may be improbable.[5] The reason being CPOPC (Council of palmoil Producing Countries) which is an organisation and both Malaysia and Indonesia are a part of this and their goal is to fight together against nations that increases tariffs on import of palm oil.[6] This opens a possibility that Indonesia may not sell to India and Indian buyers have to buy from Malaysia for want of alternatives. In this chapter, the researcher will analyse the impact on both the countries when Indonesia refuses to sell to India, whereas in the next chapter, the researcher will look into the impact when Indonesia agrees to sell to India.

Impact On Indian Economy

Due to an increase in import tariffs, it would now be expensive for Indian buyers to buy from Malaysia.This tax would not be borne only by the buyers of palm oil from Malaysia but also by its final consumers in India. The burden of tax increase will almost be equally borne by both consumers and sellers because of in inelastic supply as well as an inelastic demand.

Inelastic supply means that the supply of palm oil is not dependant on price in short run while inelastic demand means the demand of palm oil is not determined by the prices of palm oil in the short run. The elasticity of demand and supply play a major role in determining the prices of the goods and services. For Example- The demand for medicine is inelastic the price doesn’t come in the way of purchasing medicines. Also, the supply of water is inelastic as its availability doesn’t change with the change in prices. It is the elasticity of both demand and supply that determines the price.

The supply is inelastic as the palm oil trees bear fruits after 30 months of planting and continue to do so for next 20-30 years.[7] Therefore, it is not possible to see a change in supply when tariffs are imposed on the import of palmoil. The demand is also inelastic because of no alternate nation to get supplies from and there is lack of availability of economically viable substitutes. On one hectare of land, there is a yield of 3.7 tonnes of palmoil as against just 0.38 tonnes and 0.48 tonnes of soybean and sunflower oil respectively.[8]Though some consider soybean oil to be a substitute, data shows otherwise.

Palm oil and soybean oil are cross-price inelastic.[9]Their cross price elasticity at 0.103 shows that for 1% decrease in demand forpalm oil, there need to be approx. 10% reduction in the price of Soybean oil, thus Soybean oil is not a good substitute in lieu of palmoil.

The extent of the taxes borne by the sellers will reduce the profits and revenue of the businesses. The increase in cost of production will affect most of the FMCG companies, whether big or small, as they use palm oil as a raw material. This can also lead businesses to reduce the no. of workers they employ. As of now, the FMCG sector is 4th largest in our economy and provides jobs to 3 million people and 5% of the total factory employment in the country. Recent government reports have shown that unemployment rate in India is at its four-decade high. It can get aggravated by purchasing palm oil at increased tariffs.[10]

The extent of the taxes borne by the buyers will make the goods costly for them. Palmoil is used in products like soaps, shampoo, ice-cream, detergents, lip-stick, etc and increase in price of these daily-use products will adversely affect the expenditure budget of the households. Therefore household savings will reduce. Also such an increase in price of a bundle of goods may also lead to inflation.

During FY 12 and FY 17, India’s saving rate (the percentage of GDP saved) has been constantly declining and the main reason is the reduction in household savings. During the same time, the share of the households in total investment also dropped. There is a direct correlation between the household savings rate and household investment rate.[11]Thus, a further decrease in household savings due to increase in prices of those products manufactured using palmoil will leave people with less money to save and invest in banks, stock market, mutual funds, etc. it will decrease the investment in India to some extent which in turn leads to less infrastructural development.[12] This will hinder the growth of small and new businesses and will lead to reduced economic growth in India.

In the current scenario, when the Indian economy is badly hit and growth rate is very low, doing something that will increase the cost of production of almost entire FMCG sector which is 4th largest sector in India’s economy will be detrimental to Indian economy.
Indian Traders Shift To Indonesia To Purchase Palm Oil

When Indian govt. increases tariffs on the import of palmoil from Malaysia, it makes such a trade with Malaysia less attractive for the buyers in India. They would thus import from Indonesia as it is the only viable option after Malaysia as both of them together produce 85% of the palmoil production. As regards the CPOPC, there is no formal agreement and there are high chances that Indonesia will sell the oil to India. In this chapter, researcher shall analyse the impact of the same.

Reduced Foreign Exchange Reserves

The impact on the Malaysian economy will be very detrimental as India buys palmoil worth $1.3 billion annually and total exports of Malaysia are only $240 billion. When this trade shifts to Indonesia, it will lead to a reduction in exports and foreign exchange reserves in Malaysia by $1.3 billion.

As of 15th Nov 2019, Foreign Exchange Reserves of Malaysia stands at $103.2 billion.[13] And losing 1.25% of their Foreign Exchange reserves can have serious impacts on the economy in long run. These reserves are used for making payment outside the country and thus is important for payment of imports. Having sufficient reserves also help in preventing a country from external crisis. If Malaysian foreign exchange reserves were to fall, it would reduce its ability to pay for making payment for imports without incurring debt. Also, it would minimize the capacity to mitigate external shocks such as fluctuations in currency rate as selling or buying foreign exchange reserves can change their currency’s value.[14] Foreign Exchange reserves help to maintain international confidence which may take a hit if the reserves level reduces in Malaysia.

Reduced Trade Surplus

With a reduction in exports by $1.3 billion due to India not purchasing palmoil from Malaysia, the Balance of Trade surplus will fall by 5.7% of the 2017 level. The graph in annexure 5 shows the imports and exports of Malaysia from the period between 2007 and 2017.[15]The graphin annexure 6 shows the Balance of Trade in Malaysia.[16] Malaysia is one of a few countries whose balance of trade runs in surplus i.e. exports exceed imports.

A trade surplus is beneficial for an economy as it provides the nation with competitive advantages. Since the country is running in ‘profits’, they produce more which leads to more employment, a reduction in unemployment and generation of more income. This increases the standard of living of the people residing in the country. Also, the country has the capacity to import more. The 5.7% reduction will not be detrimental to the Malaysian economy as it already is enjoying trade surplus but can reduce these perks of being in trade surplus.[17]

Conclusion

The analysis by the researcher shows how a political statement can influence the trade relations among countries and also their economies. In the given case when India threatened Malaysia, it is analysed that the Indian economy will suffer if India purchases from Malaysia due to increase in cost of production and decrease in household savings but if India purchases  from Indonesia, it will prove to be detrimental to Malaysian economy due to reduction in foreign exchange reserves and trade surplus.

This is not the first time there has been international trade affected by politics. The government’s intervention in trade is not uncommon despite the growing trends of globalisation. In fact, political factors have a huge impact on such trades. After Pulwama attacks took place, India imposed 200% custom duty on all imports and took off the status of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) from Pakistan. Ideally, India should not have taken that step considering the stance it took in 1991 to open up the economy to the world and imposing such harsh import conditions on one nation is a blatant violation of the same. But considering the history of Indo- Pakistan relationship and to improve your political standing as a daring country, India took that step. It shows us how much international trade is intertwined by politics that is seems almost impossible to be able to separate them.

Fonte: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/04/16/indias-foreign-exchange-reserves/