MAC/20: Mines and Communities

India's debt to China is more than monetary

Published by MAC on 2008-01-16


India's debt to China is more than monetary

16th January 2008

Abhijeet, a family-owned Indian steel, power and infrastructure group last week said it was in talks with a Chinese power plant equipment company to build a 1,000 megawatt plant near its coal pit in eastern India. Not only is the company's plan to buy the equipment from Chinese Shandong Electric - it's also hoping to ship in a full Chinese construction crew to build the plant.

As the Financial Times commented: "The rationale is simple. India's state-owned builder of boilers, turbines and generators for electricity plants, Bharat Heavy Electricals, and its rivals in developed countries, are running at full capacity and cannot meet orders quickly enough."

Underlying this promise (many would say threat) of increased Chinese penetration of India is the huge and growing trade imblance between the world's two leading "developing economices." This seems true, however much India's government may advertise its good relationship with its neighbour, or the Chinese regime undertake to be respectful of Indian control of the country's industrialisation.

Over the past fifteen years, the world's biggest democracy has locked itself into a massive, sprawling, neo-liberalisation which appears to preclude any resumption of meaningful trade protection. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has been shoring up tarrif barriers where it suits.

As George Orwell memorably apostrophied in "Animal Farm": "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." It doesn't take guessing which creature will garner the biggest part of the inter-state farmyard; or on which peoples the worst aspects of this unequal relationship will fall. [Comment by Nostromo Research, 16 January 2008]


Chinese dragon roars over Indian industry

By Joe Leahy in Mumbai, Financial Times

15th January 2008

As Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, wound up his three-day trip to China on Tuesday, the growing trade imbalance between the two countries in favour of Beijing has proved to be one of the most contentious issues.

Sino-Indian trade last year soared 56 per cent to $38.7bn ( £19.6bn), according to Chinese data, and could reach $60bn by 2010. But this is heavily tilted in China's favour, with the deficit more than doubling to $9.17bn in the past fiscal year.

"We should harness our complementarities and synergies in the areas of trade and business," Mr Singh said in a speech to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

But the trade deficit with China is about to get far worse, if Indian entrepreneurs such as Abhijeet Jayaswal have their way.

Mr Jayaswal, a youthful director of Abhijeet, a family-owned Indian steel, power and infrastructure group, says he is in talks with a Chinese power plant equipment company to build a 1,000 megawatt plant near his coal pit in eastern India.

Not only does he plan to buy the equipment from the company, Shandong Electric Power, but he is also hoping to ship in a full Chinese construction crew to build it.

His rationale is simple. India's state-owned builder of boilers, turbines and generators for electricity plants, Bharat Heavy Electricals, and its rivals in developed countries, are running at full capacity and cannot meet orders quickly enough.

"The reason people go to China is because they have huge manufacturing capacity and they can deliver power in two years," Mr Jayaswal says,.

As India begins its long-awaited infrastructure build-out, China's share of its trade is expected to grow exponentially on the back of an unprecedented surge in capital goods imports.

India needs $500bn in investment in infrastructure over the next five years, with much of this expected to be spent on power, telecommunications, and oil and gas infrastructure - all sectors in which Chinese equipment vendors are highly competitive. The trend is alarming some business lobby groups in the subcontinent, who fear Indian manufacturers will be overrun.

"Let the dragon and the elephant dance together and not be separated by a 'Chinese wall'," wrote Amit Mitra, secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, in The Times of India, in a call for a more level playing field on trade.

But the dragon looks like having the upper hand at least for the next few years.

So far the deficit has been confined to areas such as electricals, pipes and mach­inery parts but increasingly it looks like spreading to more expensive equipment.

Amit Jain, head of investor relations at Reliance Energy , whose power unit is holding India's biggest stock market listing, says the group is approaching Chinese and South Korean producers to supply equipment for 14,000MW of coal-fired power plants. This equates to orders worth about $8bn.

The group is talking with Shanghai Electric , he says, adding that Chinese equipment tends to be 15-20 per cent cheaper over its life than Indian products.

In oil and gas, Reliance Industries, a separate group from Reliance Energy, has hired China National Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, the state-owned Chinese group, to build a 1,600km natural gas pipeline. Reliance has deployed 1,800 Chinese workers to build the project.

Arvind Mahajan at the consultancy KPMG says India's private sector power operators were attracted to Chinese manufacturers by their low costs and promise to deliver on time.

Increasingly, like Reliance and Abhijeet, they are also looking to tap Chinese workers, although this will prove politically difficult in a country with its own huge under-utilised labour supply.

"You bring in the whole team - they may not know the language but they will work 24 hours a day until it is built on time," Mr Maha­jan says.

Some Indian companies have adopted the "if you can't beat them, join them" approach.

Larsen & Toubro, one of India's oldest engineering companies, has set up plants making industrial valves, high-technology electrical switchgear and rubber processing machinery in China.

"We are taking advantage of the productive environment China has created," L&T says.

Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2008

 

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