The Lion’s Meow: a closer look at Make in India

The logic behind the government’s Make in India initiative is clear. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated in his speech at the launch of “Make in India Week” in Mumbai on 13 Feb 2016:

We launched the Make in India campaign to create employment and self-employment opportunities for our youth. We are working aggressively towards making India a Global Manufacturing Hub. We want the share of manufacturing in our GDP to go up to 25 per cent in the near future.

The specific goal is to increase the share of manufacturing in India’s Gross Domestic Product to 25% by 2022, which is expected to generate approximately 100 million jobs for Indian workers (see Ab ki baar, cut-and-paste sarkar for Make in India’s similarities with the UPA’s 2011 National Manufacturing Policy).

So how are we doing so far? If you believe the headlines, pretty well. Responding to the lifting of foreign direct investment (FDI) caps in several sectors, efforts to improve the Ease of Doing Business and of course Prime Minister Modi’s frenetic wooing of investment in foreign travels, gross FDI flows to India jumped 27% to $45 billion in 2015-16, an all-time high. Even the Finance Ministry’s usually measured 2015-16 Economic Survey touted the FDI increase as a success for Make in India.  With our social media feeds full of stories about this or that investment, clearly the #MakeInIndia lion is roaring.

But the closer you get to the lion, the more the roar sounds like a meow.

Consider the most recent FDI data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), broken up by sector, since Make in India specifically concerns manufacturing. After an encouraging jump to a record $9.6 billion in 2014-15, FDI in manufacturing actually fell to $8.4 billion in 2015-16 (below the $9.3 billion it had reached in 2011-12).

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Note that these numbers cover inflows approved by the RBI and other agencies, and exclude share purchases, reinvested earnings and so on. This pattern is consistent with data from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, analysed here.

Furthermore, the percentage of FDI flowing to manufacturing, which has been in the range of 35-40% for the past four years, dropped to 23% in 2015-16. Rather than manufacturing, services — think e-commerce providers like Amazon, Snapdeal and Flipkart, ride-sharing services like Uber and Ola — seem to be drawing a greater share of investment.

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What about the broader economy? After all, Make in India’s main objective is to raise the share of manufacturing in the economy as a means of generating jobs.

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Sadly, no meaningful change yet: the share of manufacturing has been flat for the past decade, with a slight downward trend (data here and here).

Here’s the rub: there is no doubt that building infrastructure, liberalising land and labour laws and improving the ease of doing business is difficult and time-consuming, and will take time to play out. But the Modi government needs to convince voters that change is happening, and fast.

Which is the genius of the Make in India campaign: it is essentially a branding exercise under which the government claims credit for pretty much everything and yet nothing. Every factory inaugurated, every defence deal signed, every shovel stuck into the ground will now be accompanied by the hashtag #MakeInIndia, even if the percentage of GDP arising from manufacturing stays exactly where it’s been for the past decade.

Consider this recent tweet from the official Make in India handle:

The Tejas is an Indian fighter plane that has been in development for more than two decades and first flew in 2001, but let’s label it #MakeInIndia. The BrahMos is a modified Russian cruise missile with Indian software that entered service with the Indian Navy in 2005, but, hey, why not #MakeInIndia.

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Manufacturing a surprise

With all the flak that that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) got for its “policy paralysis” and anti-growth policies (apparently both can simultaneously occur), one would hardly have expected a sharp economic revival in its final year in office. However, new and improved government economic data shows that in 2013-14 (i.e. the fiscal year ending March 2014), annual growth was a respectable 6.6%, up 1.7 percentage points from the previous year. This recovery is comparable in scale with the 1.9 percentage point growth spurt (to 8.6%) we saw in 2009-10 following the 2008 crash.

A tale of two base years (via Business Standard)
A tale of two base years (via Business Standard)

The chart shows that the biggest upward revisions (compared with the old data series that uses 2004-05 as base year) are in the areas of manufacturing and “trade, repair, hotels and restaurants”. For 2013-14, there is also a big upward revision in “mining and quarrying”. This is important: it tells us that despite what we have heard from lobbyists, industry associations and commentators, manufacturing performed reasonably well under the UPA. The mining industry, whose woes are only partly ascribable to UPA policy (other actors being the judiciary and state governments), also began a substantial recovery in 2013-14.

The share of manufacturing in the economy (under the gross value-added calculation) has also been revised from 13-15% under the old series (over the past three years) to 17-18% under the new series. This renders the government’s “Make in India” target of generating 25% of gross domestic product (GDP) from manufacturing by 2022 more achievable.

Are these revisions meaningful? R Jagannathan misses the point in attributing the growth jump mostly to the base effect created by a 2.2% reduction in the estimated size of the economy in 2011-12 (see table below). That did occur, but the 2012-13 estimate was also lowered by 1.3% while the 2013-14 estimate remained flat, none of which makes the growth numbers any less real.

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In fact, the new data are much more robust, particularly when it comes to the corporate sector. For instance, the old series relied on Reserve Bank of India data pertaining to about 2,500 companies, while the new one uses the MCA21 database at the Ministry of Corporate Affairs that covers 5 lakh firms. The obvious takeaway is that manufacturing continued to grow at a respectable pace despite the cramping effect of inflation, high interest rates and impaired balance sheets.

So do these numbers really vindicate the UPA (as ex-Finance Minister P Chidambaram has stated)?

There can be little question that the UPA went into policy paralysis between 2010, when serious allegations of corruption broke, and 2012 when it finally summoned up the will to raise fuel prices and permit FDI in retail. Most people would agree that it did some good things (such as institute a credible monetary policy under Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan, approve long-pending industrial projects and reduce fuel subsidies) but that its governance capacities were sapped by revelations of large-scale crony capitalism.

But as anger towards the UPA fades over time and its record is examined more dispassionately, the view that it seriously damaged India’s long-term growth prospects will ease into a more balanced critique.

Added on Feb 2

Morgan Stanley Research today issued a report that says that the new data showing a growth acceleration in 2013-14 are inconsistent with other indicators, such as the revenue growth of 0.9% clocked by 3,736 firms in the manufacturing and services sectors. This number, they say, has previously moved in sync with economic growth.

Let the games begin.