India Insight

from Global Investing:

Retail volte face confirms India as BRIC that disappoints

Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs banker who coined the term BRICs to capture the fast-growing emerging-markets quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China,  has fingered India as the BRIC that has disappointed the most over the past decade in terms of reforms, FDI and productivity. New Delhi's latest decision to put on hold a landmark reform of its retail sector will only confirm this view.

The government's backtracking on plans to allow foreign investment in supermarkets will not surprise those accustomed to New Delhi's record on key economic reforms. But it means India's weak performance on FDI receipts will continue and that's bad news for the worsening balance of payments deficit.  Speaking of the retail volte face, O'Neill said: "They shouldn’t raise people's hopes of FDI and then in a week, say, 'we’re only joking'".

Various Indian lobby groups that oppose the reforms contend that foreign giants such as Wal-Mart and Tesco will kill off the livelihoods of millions of small traders.

Not so, according to  a study by the Vale Columbia Centre for Sustainable Economic Development, a think-tank that studies FDI trends. The Centre's Nandita Dasgupta notes that many emerging economies that have allowed 100-percent foreign participation in retail since the early 1990s have seen encouraging results. These include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Russia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. In China, FDI in retail was permitted 20 years ago. But there is no evidence the huge investments have hurt mom-and-pop operations or domestic retail chains, Dasgupta says. In fact, since 2004 the number of small Chinese outlets has increased to around 2.5 million from 1.9 million. Between 1992 and 2001, employment in retail and wholesale almost doubled to 54 million.

In Indonesia, where FDI to retail was liberalised 10 years ago, 90 percent of the business remains with small traders, Dasgupta points out.

Will Buffett, Gates’ giving pledge convince rich Indians?

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates are on a week-long trip to India, primarily to encourage the rich to give away a portion of their wealth to charity.

The visit follows a similar one made by the duo to China, the country with the most number of billionaires after the United States, where they urged the wealthy to sign up for their Giving Pledge campaign.

India’s rich are not really known for sharing their wealth. Big, family-run businesses are often inherited and set up with the help of ancestral wealth, and few have shown any willingness to part with it.

Suu Kyi underlines India’s strategic approach to Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmarese pro-democracy leader who was released from seven years of continuous house detention on Nov 13, used her first interview with an Indian media organisation to criticise the world’s largest democracy for its foreign policy towards the military junta-ruled nation.Aung San Suu Kyi addresses supporters outside her National League for Democracy party headquarters in Yangon November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“I am saddened with India. I would like to have thought that India would be standing behind [the pro-democracy movement]. That it would have followed in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru,” Suu Kyi told the Indian Express on Wednesday.

“I do not oppose relations with the Generals but I hope that the Indian government would talk to us as well. I would like to see talks begin immediately. I would like to see close and friendly relations, like those that have not been seen recently.”

Will rotting foodgrain bring about a retail revolution?

Pictures of grain rotting in the rain in Punjab have shocked a country reeling under high food price inflation and where hundreds of thousands go to bed every night on an empty stomach.

A labourer carries a plastic sheet to cover wheat sacks at a wholesale grain market in Chandigarh May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Ajay Verma/FilesThe estimates vary from 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice and wheat wasting in Punjab alone, and as much as 18 million metric tonnes of food grain lying in the open across the country because of inadequate storage facilities, translating into losses of about 270 billion rupees ($6 billion).

But this is not a new problem. India has prided itself on increasing agricultural productivity, but it has not invested adequately in storage and warehousing facilities, condemning some 40 percent of produce that the country can ill-afford to waste to the trash can.

from Global Investing:

What worries the BRICs

Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD's annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.

MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.

This has been exploding over the past decade. Net outward investment from developing countries reached $198 billion in 2008 from around $20 billion in 2000. The 2008 figure was only 10.8 percent of global FDI, but it was just 1.4 percent in 2000.

from Global Investing:

Time to kick Russia out of the BRICs?

It may end up sounding like a famous ball-point pen maker, but an argument is being made that Goldman Sach's famous marketing device, the BRICs, should really be the BICs. Does Russia really deserve to be a BRIC, asks Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an article for Foreign Policy.

Åslund, who is also co-author with Andrew Kuchins of "The Russian Balance Sheet", reckons the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is just not worthy of inclusion alongside Brazil, India and China  in the list of blue-chip economic powerhouses. He writes:

The country's economic performance has plummeted to such a dismal level that one must ask whether it is entitled to have any say at all on the global economy, compared with the other, more functional members of its cohort.

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