By ADITYA RAJ DAS
At a time when several international economic think tanks are projecting India as the fastest growing economy in the world, the ongoing radical reforms programmes being undertaken by the Modi government have earned accolades at the 50th Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) currently being held at Tokyo.
While appreciating the robust pick up in the growth momentum of the Indian economy in the current fiscal 2017-18 the ADB has lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort of integrating indirect taxes through the Goods and Service Tax (GST)– touted as the moast radical reforms in India’s Indirect Tax system.
Forecasting India’s economic growth rate at 7.4 per cent in the current fiscal year– up from 7.1 per cent in the previous year– and pegging 7.6 per cent for the next fiscal ADB President Takehiko Nakao says “Prime Minister Modi’s effort of integrating tax system by the GST is being implemented. So, the reform impetus is gathering more momentum”.
Hailed as the biggest tax reform since India’s independence, GST will replace an array of central and state levies with a national sales tax, thereby creating a single market and making it easier to do business in the country.
While noting India has very strong potential to emerge as a large market force the ADB wants the Indian market to be more “deregulated” and Foreign Direct Investment friendly to realise the true potential.
At the three-day meet the high-level Indian delegation led by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made a number of innovative suggestions to further spur the growth momentum of the Indian economy, which is emerging as the engine of growth in the entire South Asia.
Significantly Jaitley has urged the ADB to set up a regional hub in New Delhi for the South Asia region in order to keep pace with the growing aspirations of the people and expedite the process of project preparation and delivery for India and other countries in the region.
India has suggested that the bank should adopt a country system for procurement, social and environmental safeguards expeditiously.
While lauding the efforts of the ADB in eliminating poverty in the region through development of physical and social infrastructure, Jaitley called for a greater focus on the renewable energy, keeping in view the need to tackle climate change.
In urban development, especially in the sectors of drinking water and sanitation, Jaitley has rightly underlined the major challenges faced by many developing countries in making the system work without having to depend much on budgetary support from the national governments.
Taking note of growing apprehensions over climate change and its import on economy India has highlighted that the bank must promote sustainable models that will address these challenges.
In this context India has called upon the ADB to focus on climate resilient agriculture, better farm production technologies, improved value chain management and creation of better marketing infrastructure for farm produce since a large number of rural population of developing countries depends upon agriculture.
Significantly, India at the ADB meet has flagged the issue of taking cognisance of views of developing countries in shaping growth model. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his meeting with the ADB President Nakao has urged the ADB to ensure primacy is accorded to views of developing countries in operations of the multilateral lending agency and resource planning.
In a bid to speed up developmental process in the Asia Pacific region India has impressed upon the ADB to reduce the time it takes to approve a loan as well as to disburse as the developing countries in the Asian region need to build their infrastructure and increase social sector spending.
India has suggested the need for ADB to adopt Country Systems quickly rather than being content with adoption of the Agency System to help reduce delays in the run-up to project approvals.
India’s suggestion has assumed importance in the wake of newer multilateral agencies like Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank taking increasing share in the infrastructure lending space.
While appreciating that eliminating poverty from the Asia-Pacific region is the vowed objective of ADB, India has suggested “in addition to sectors like energy, urban development and transportation, we need to focus more on affordable renewable energy”.
Another significant feature of the ADB meet at Tokyo is that Asia’s leading economic leaders strongly vouched for globalization and spoke against protectionism being advocated by some western economies.
From the pulpit at the ADB meet in Japan, central bankers and finance ministers from across the region fought back against the idea that international commerce should face more restrictions.
As Finance Minister Jaitley says “Trade is going to find ways and means — either by way of multilateral arrangements, plurilateral arrangements, or bilateral arrangements — of moving forward.”
Jaitley’s comments were echoed by others at the debate, including ADB President Takehiko Nakao, who said he did not believe recent protectionist remarks “by several policymakers in the world” would immediately impact Asia and its continued opening up.
For his part, Nakao took an unequivocal stance on trade. As he says “Free trade is important and protectionist trade practices are not good, and we should make every effort to keep the trade and investment regime open.”
It is quite an achievement for India as its view that protectionism should be shunned for the development of global trade and investment received overwhelming support at the ADB meet.