Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma today expressed optimism that the slight uptick in January exports, which rose 0.8 per cent, will help close the trade gap, which stood at USD 167.16 billion in the first 10 months of the fiscal.
"I hope with exports growing marginally in January, it should help us narrow the trade gap at the close of the fiscal," Sharma told reporters after launching the Nasscom national summit here.
Earlier in the day, the ministry released exports data for January showing outward shipments rising 0.8 per cent to USD 25.58 billion while imports jumped 6.12 per cent to USD 45.5 billion, widening the trade deficit to USD 20 billion.
This is the first time in eight months that exports recorded a growth.
Blaming rising oil and gold imports for the widening trade gap, Sharma said gold imports are a matter of concern and called for a balanced approach towards gold import duty.
During the April-January period of the current fiscal, the country's overseas shipments shrunk by 4.86 per cent to USD 239.6 billion, while imports during the period rose by 0.01 per cent to USD 406.8 billion. Trade deficit during the 10-month period stood at USD 167.16 billion.
Oil imports in January grew by 6.91 per cent to USD 15.89 billion from USD 14.87 billion a year ago. Imports of non-oil items, too, rose 5.71 per cent during January to USD 29.68 billion.
On the latest factory output numbers, which surprisingly shrank 0.6 per cent in December, Sharma said, "I expect the numbers to improve in January, and that we should be able to close the gap.
"It is important that the March quarter numbers are positive. Because the trade account is under stress, high oil and gas prices (are hurting the overall numbers), so oil import bill is definitely a challenge," Sharma said.
Pointing out that there has been an over all contraction in global trade, particularly, due to the Eurozone crisis which had a larger impact on India's trade balance, he said "we hope that in the last quarter we will be able to reduce the gap."
Yesterday the government data showed that factory output dipped 0.6 per cent in December, dampening the recovery hopes of the economy.
According to the data released by the Central Statistical Organisation, industrial output contracted by 0.6 per cent in December, the second consecutive month of decline, mainly due to the poor showing by manufacturing and mining.
Industry registered a growth of 8.3 per cent in October.
This has left the IIP growth rate for the nine-month period between April and December of the current fiscal at a meagre 0.7 per cent, as against a 3.7 per cent growth in the year-ago period.
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