NEW DELHI — India’s trade deficit hit a five-month high in March as merchandise exports fell for a second straight month, making it tougher for policymakers to lift curbs on gold imports that have helped to narrow the country’s current account gap.
Asia’s third-largest economy, which is struggling through its longest period of sub-5 percent economic growth since the 1980s, is seen vulnerable to any shift in capital flows.
Among the “Fragile Five” emerging economies, India suffered from massive capital outflows last year, in part on concerns over a bloated current account deficit, after the US Federal Reserve signalled a trimming down of its monetary stimulus.
Heavy outflows sent the rupee to a record low in August, prompting Indian authorities to build up foreign-currency reserves and clamp down on gold imports, levying a record 10 percent duty on the yellow metal and linking import volumes with exports.
India’s trade gap in March widened to $10.51 billion, its highest since October 2013, data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry showed on Friday. Overseas sales of Indian goods fell 3.15 percent from a year earlier to $29.58 billion in March.
Merchandise exports for the 2013/14 fiscal year, however, grew 3.98 percent on year to $312.36 billion. Together with a 8.11 percent decline in annual imports, that helped sharply narrow the country’s full-year trade shortfall to $138.59 billion from $190.34 billion a year ago.
“Extreme caution needs to be taken towards any liberalisation of gold imports because the risks of gold imports rising are very, very active,” said Saugata Bhattacharya, chief economist at Axis Bank.
As a result of curbs on gold, annual gold and silver imports dropped 40 percent to $33.5 billion, helping shrink the full-year current account deficit to around $35 billion, 2 percent of GDP, from $88 billion, or 4.8 percent, a year ago