Export growth eased to a six-month low of 3.49 per cent in December mainly due to a fall in the shipment of petroleum goods.

“It is only one product group which has contributed to (slower growth in exports) and that is petroleum products. There has been an unplanned maintenance shutdown in one of our largest exporters of the country — Reliance Industries,” Commerce Secretary S. R. Rao said on Friday.

Exports stood at $26.3 billion in December compared with $25.4 billion in the same month of 2012.

Petroleum exports, which contribute significantly to the country’s trade basket, declined 16 per cent last month.

However, a 15.25 per cent decline in imports to $36.4 billion, particularly in gold and silver shipments, helped narrow the trade deficit to $10.1 billion in December. In November, the trade gap was $9.21 billion.

Inward shipments of gold and silver dipped 68.8 per cent to $1.77 billion from $5.6 billion in December last year, although they were higher than $1.05 billion in November.

Oil imports grew 1.1 per cent to $13.89 billion during the month. Mr. Rao said that barring petroleum products, all other sectors such as engineering, textiles and chemicals had shown reasonable healthy growth.

Commenting on the figures, Rafeeq Ahmed, President of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said efforts were required to keep export growth in double-digits.

During April-December, exports aggregated $230.3 billion and imports $340.3 billion, while the trade deficit was about $110 billion.

“We are not happy with a modest growth of 3.49 per cent in exports in December,” Mr. Ahmed said.

Gold and silver imports in the April-December period declined 30.3 per cent to $27.3 billion from $39.2 billion a year earlier.

The government and the Reserve Bank of India had taken steps last year to curb gold imports in a bid to contain the current account deficit.

Oil imports in the nine-month period grew 2.6 per cent to $124.95 billion, while non-oil imports dipped 11.1 per cent to $215.42 billion.

Export sectors that registered positive growth in December include engineering (15 per cent), readymade garments (17.39 per cent), chemicals (8.75 per cent), cotton yarn and fabrics (1.42 per cent), rice (9.72 per cent) and plastics (21 per cent).

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