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In Focus: The Indian Rupee As International Currency

In Focus: The Indian Rupee As International Currency

In Focus: The Indian Rupee As International Currency

By Mohini Tiwari

In a global economic landscape marked by a constant fluctuation in exchange rates and geopolitical conflicts, nations are seeking alternatives to dominant currencies like the US Dollar and Euro. India’s Rupee is emerging as an alternative, with countries showing interest towards Rupee-denominated trade. This strategic shift signals an opportunity to rejig international trade dynamics, potentially diversifying partnerships and reducing reliance on traditional reserve currencies.

In 2022, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has made a strategic move to boost global trade in a bid to elevate the Indian Rupee on the world stage. They introduced a new mechanism that allows for invoicing, payments, and settlements of both exports and imports to be conducted entirely in rupees. This initiative aims to achieve two key goals: firstly, to accelerate the growth of global trade with a particular focus on boosting Indian exports. Secondly, it capitalizes on the growing international interest in the Rupee as a viable trading currency. An additional benefit is that this mechanism empowers Indian businesses to navigate potential limitations imposed through the dependence on traditional reserve currencies like the US Dollar in certain trade partnerships. The RBI’s move has the potential to disrupt existing international trade mechanisms by paving the way for a more diversified and Rupee-centric future.

Why Are Countries Agreeing for De-dollarization?

In a move to diversify trade and reduce India’s reliance on major reserve currencies, the Reserve Bank of India has opened Special Vostro Rupee Accounts for 18 countries, including regional neighbors like Nepal and Bhutan, and strategic partners like UAE, Russia, Maldives and Iran. This initiative aligns with the broader trend of de-dollarization, driven by various economic and geopolitical factors. De-dollarization is a strategic move, not a whim. It aims to create a more balanced global economy by reducing dependence on dominant currencies like the US Dollar and Euro. This shift not only strengthens diplomatic ties by stimulating deeper economic connections, but also allows countries to diversify their foreign exchange reserves, mitigating risks associated with currency fluctuations. An additional benefit is the significant reduction in transaction costs for both parties involved in trade, as the need for conversion to a third currency is eliminated. However, dollar dominance is unlikely to fade away, and any initiatives to diversify should be seen as attempts to gradually strengthen the Rupee as a viable alternative in the coming years.

How Does the New Mechanism Benefit Indian Exports?

This innovative system eliminates the need for currency conversion fees in international transactions between India and its partner countries. The most immediate benefit is a significant cost reduction for Indian exporters. This translates directly into a sharper competitive edge in the global marketplace, making Indian products more attractive to foreign buyers. The ripple effect of this competitiveness will likely lead to a surge in export volumes, potentially acting as a shot in the arm for Indian manufacturing, while acting as a key driver for job creation. Rupee trade could create a more welcoming environment for foreign investment, and by streamlining transactions in rupees, India will become a more accessible market for foreign businesses.

What is the Framework Outlined by the RBI?

This system allows importers and exporters to circumvent rules that prevent the use of a global currency, such as the US dollar for trade with certain countries. Under this framework, all invoices and transactions will be denominated in rupees, with the exchange rate determined by the market. There is no change in documentation requirements for export and import undertaken and settled under this new framework. Letters of Credit and other trade related documentation can be mutually agreed upon by partner countries’ banks, in adherence with established guidelines like the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCPDC) and incoterms. Understandably, the reporting of these cross-border transactions must be done in accordance with the existing guidelines under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999.

A Step Towards a Multipolar World Economy 

As the momentum for Indian Rupee trade surges, it carries the potential to significantly alter the international economic landscape. The growing acceptance of the Rupee signifies a move towards a multipolar global economy, where multiple currencies share the stage in international transactions. This shift is driven by concerns about the concentration of economic power and vulnerability to external shocks inherent in a single-currency dominated system. While the Indian Rupee experiences some volatility, particularly against the US Dollar, it remains considerably more stable than many other international currencies. India’s massive domestic market, with its growing middle class wielding significant purchasing power, presents a compelling proposition for foreign trading partners. India is now increasingly viewed with optimism, largely due to  the stability it has offered over recent years, and the policy measures undertaken vis-a-vis taxation, given how the government sounded its intent to further simplify the tax code in the near future. Furthermore, India’s commitment to economic reforms, trade liberalization, and infrastructural development will be critical in establishing a seamless framework for international trade using its own currency.

The rise of the Rupee as a viable trade currency signifies a potential paradigm shift, and it reflects a yearning for greater autonomy, intent to reduce India’s dependence on dominant currencies, and a desire to strengthen various bilateral ties. As India continues to pursue a plethora of reforms, trade liberalization, and infrastructure development, it paves the way for a more balanced and multipolar world economy. This transition, driven by a desire to emerge as a geoeconomic tour de force and foster a more stable financial landscape, holds immense promise for India’s exports, foreign investment, and ultimately, its position on the global economic stage. While the Rupee might not dethrone major reserve currencies significantly in the near term, its growing role as an alternative trade currency shall continue to gain traction and contribute to a more diversified and competitive global trade environment.

Top Stories of the Week

US Ramps Up Tariffs on Chinese Imports

The Biden administration announced significant tariff increases on $18 billion worth of Chinese imports on Tuesday, which includes tariffs on electric vehicles, solar cells, steel, aluminum, lithium-ion batteries, and medical equipment. Tariffs on non-lithium-ion battery parts will rise from 7.5% to 25%, and EVs from China will face a 100% tariff, up from 25%. Solar cells, steel, and aluminum will also see significant hikes, with semiconductors scheduled for a tariff increase from 25% to 50% by 2025, followed by further increases in 2026 for other products.

The move, aimed at protecting American industries from unfair competition, comes as President Biden accuses China of heavily subsidizing various products. In the US’s view, this has led to overproduction and dumping into markets at unfairly low prices. In response, Beijing swiftly condemned the new tariffs, stating that they contradict Biden’s commitments to not suppress China’s development or the economic decoupling of the two countries. China urged the US to reverse the tariff measures, warning of resolute countermeasures to defend its interests.

Concerns have emerged about how these changes might affect India’s trade, with the Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI) cautioning that Chinese products could end up flooding the Indian markets, as they would be redirected from the US market. While there may be export opportunities in the medical sector, especially for essential supplies, sectors like electric vehicles (EVs) and semiconductors, where India imports more than it exports, might not see significant benefits. There’s a potential for an increase in Chinese goods entering India, particularly in sectors affected by US tariff hikes. Additionally, there are opportunities in aluminum and steel exports, where India’s manufacturing capabilities could help offset the impact of US tariffs on Chinese products.

First 100 Days’ Focus- Development in Public Distribution

The Indian Government is looking to implement logistics reforms within the first 100 days of forming the government, provided that the incumbent government assumes power after the elections. These reforms aim to enhance the efficiency of the payment and distribution system for food grains, crucial for mitigating post harvest losses and ensuring food security nationwide.

While the specifics of the 100-day agenda will be finalised after the new government takes office, the focus is primarily on optimising the logistics of bulk movement and storage of food grains. Sanjeev Chopra, Secretary, Ministry of Food and Public Distribution, emphasised leveraging existing infrastructure, such as fair price shops (FPS), to expand their role and enhance their effectiveness in serving local communities. The government aims to revitalise FPS by exploring ways to capitalise on their longstanding presence and the trust they command among the populace.

Regarding export curbs on essential commodities like rice and wheat, the government remains vigilant, monitoring the demand-supply dynamics closely. For the moment, there are no proposals to revise export restrictions. Recent measures, such as lifting the ban on onion exports with accompanying export duties, reflect the government’s efforts to balance domestic market stability with international trade interests.

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