Several of my recent columns at Asia Times have covered the ongoing turmoil in India regarding whether or not the country will open its retail market to foreign investment (and, thereby, foreign competition). Whether or not India has the political will and stamina to push through these reforms remains to be seen, but as Fareed Zakaria points out (HT Michael Zakkour), how India responds to this next round of reforms may have a lot to say about whether India will continue to be included in the useful “BRIC” acronym or whether it will get voted off of the proverbial BRIC island. If India comes up short, as Zakaria puts it, “10 years from now people might still be praising the BRICs, except that the ‘I’ in BRIC might stand for Indonesia, not India.”
India’s stalled reform process would be troubling enough news, but added to this is the unpleasant reality that its domestic economy is stalled. Export growth from India over the last four quarters has been reduced to purely that from the services sector. As Derek Thompson of The Atlantic points out in a recent blog post:
Once you get past mid-year export growth, there’s not a lot of good news coming out of India. Inflation is near 10 percent, which is even worse news than it sounds, since Indian families spend as much as 30 percent of their income on inflation-sensitive food. GDP growth is down, industrial production is slowing, and investors are shirking away from Indian assets. All that means the India is inauspiciously reliant on a global economy that is feeling even more vulnerable. Twenty percent of its exports go to the EU, which is on the precipice of … well, who even knows right now. Another 20 percent go to Asian economies, many of which are experiencing their own slowdowns.
As 2011 draws to a close, we are seeing increasing signs that many – if not most – of the BRIC economies are slowing down. Last week in conversations with a friend who manages a multinational business in Asia, he commented that orders from China have dramatically slowed down over the last several months. What is going on in China and India may not only be an economic slowdown but also a re-evaluation of what it means to participate in globalization in the ways more developed economies anticipate. In many ways, India is the canary in the mine relative to questions being asked by the public at large in emerging economies: they want to be convinced that being open to globalization will do more than create short-term opportunities for them to buy new products; they want to be confident they also stand to benefit long-term from trade with those outside their borders. This is, in many ways, a similar question being asked in developed economies. It remains to be seen if 2012 provides clarity for all parties on this matter or further confusion. In the midst of an American presidential election and a transfer of power in China, I’d bet on the latter.